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Primary Madness: Revamping the Electoral Landscape

By on June 2, 2016

With just days before the June 5 primaries, an outdated voting list could lead to problems with possible voter fraud in the upcoming electoral event.

Some 2.8 million voters are on the electoral lists of voters in the general primaries scheduled for June 5.

Out of these 2.8 million voters, 770,000 people were activated by a recent order of federal Judge Carmen Consuelo Vargas de Cerezo after they were taken off of official lists of the State Elections Commission (CEE by its Spanish initials) because they did not vote in the 2008 and 2012 general elections.

By law, eligible citizens who did not vote before 2008 must register to vote in the general elections on Nov. 8, but they may not vote in the June 5 general primaries if they are not registered.

“The [judge’s] ruling represents a problem for us because we are going to an event with electoral lists that have not been updated and refined. We do not know how many of those 770,000 people are alive or whether or not they live in Puerto Rico,” said Liza García Vélez, CEE president.

To make the situation worse, the CEE does not have the resources or the available time to undertake the process of reviewing and updating the lists, according to CEE officials and party electoral commissioners.

Among the possible problems could be a person who has moved to Florida or another state, and then returns to Puerto Rico to vote; or a person who has moved from Mayagüez to San Juan, but has not registered to vote with his/her new local precinct, García indicated. A less likely scenario could be someone trying to use the I.D. of a person who has died in an attempt to vote.

Another situation that could be problematic has to do with the Democratic Party presidential primary in Puerto Rico—also being held on June 5—as local officials decided not to use the electronic vote count, not to ink voters’ fingers and not to use voting booths.

Some have questioned whether this process will guarantee voters’ right to secrecy and confidentiality, but Roberto Prats, president of the Democratic Party in Puerto Rico, said the established system is safe and secure.

“We are working to receive voters and ensure their votes fully meet their intentions,” Prats said, reiterating that the party has taken all measures to ensure the process will flow normally.

He also reaffirmed his confidence that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will comfortably win the local Democratic presidential primary against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

CEE officials have been reticent to discuss the potential problems that could arise in this type of voting, especially regarding the certainty and security of the results.

Thousands of poling stations to be open

In the upcoming primary, the New Progressive Party (NPP) will have 2,848 voting centers open; the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) will have 1,653 open; and the Democratic Party will have 1,510 voting centers open.

The NPP estimates that about 700,000 voters will participate, while the PDP is expecting much fewer voters, about 200,000 in total.

The Democratic Party’s Prats is betting that many of those voters will walk across to their own polling stations to cast ballots for the party’s presidential nominee.

Interestingly, supporters of Sander’s candidacy appear to be highly motivated and have assured that all their polling station officials are ready for the event.

On June 5, schools serving as voting centers will open at 8 a.m. and close at 3 p.m., when the polls close. The CEE had asked the Legislature to extend the voting period until 4 p.m., but to date, no response has been received.

“We made our petition on time, but we have received no response from legislators,” said García Vélez, who indicated that after the voting centers are closed to the public, polling officials who worked during the primaries will cast their votes. At that time, the votes cast by prison inmates, who voted earlier on June 3, would also be counted.

Some 400 polling stations will have to report their results to other voting centers due to a lack of infrastructure to directly transmit the information to the CEE’s central system.

During the general primaries, which have an estimated cost of $14.4 million, the electronic counting system will be used for the first time in Puerto Rico.

The election commissioners of the four political parties represented at the CEE are: Jorge Dávila, of the NPP; Guillermo San Antonio, of the PDP; Roberto Iván Aponte of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP); and José Córdova, of the Working People’s Party (PPT by its Spanish initials), have highlighted the progress represented by using electronic machines in the screening process by providing security and certainty when the votes are counted.

“Using these machines in the scrutiny process represents an extraordinary advance because it protects the intention of the vote cast by the person,” Dávila said, recalling that the ballots used before this type of technology was available did not necessarily guarantee the voter’s intention. “We know the stories that occurred in those [elections], when some ballots were destroyed, among many other things,” he said.

CEE promises quick and reliable results

Thanks to the electronic counting system, the CEE expects the bulk of the voting results will begin to flow about two hours after the polling stations are closed and the vast majority of votes—at least 80%—will be counted within or before three hours after the voting centers have been closed.

Operations for the upcoming electoral event have been organized so the party electoral commissioners participating in the primaries (NPP and PDP), as well as Democratic Party officials, will have access to the results at CEE headquarters in San Juan as the tallies arrive.

Dominion Voting, the company that signed a $38.5 million contract with the CEE to implement the electronic voting system for the June primaries and November general elections in 2016, 2020 and 2024, remained confident all these electoral events would occur without any problems.

However, only days before the June primaries, John Polous, president & CEO of Dominion, reiterated that his company is working in a “critical environment” because there was very little time to provide essential materials for the process, such as ballots and ballot boxes.

Still, Dominion assured the public that the training of the officials who will handle the machines used in the screening process has been adequately conducted and their work with CEE officials has been excellent.

“Alongside the political parties participating in these primaries, we have provided training to hundreds of officials across the island,” Polous said.

PIP electoral commissioner Aponte has anticipated that although the party will not participate in these primaries, they will be observing the process to evaluate and make any necessary adjustments ahead of the November general elections.

“I think it will be an extraordinary opportunity to evaluate the operation of those machines to be used in counting votes,” Aponte said.

NPP Official: Winner of Party Primary for Governor Will Win La Fortaleza in November

New Progressive Party (NPP) Electoral Commissioner Jorge Dávila said whoever wins the primaries for governor in his party on June 5 will be the next governor of Puerto Rico come January 2017.

Dávila said that in this election cycle, the process has been accelerated because whoever wins the NPP primaries is sure to be victorious against Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate David Bernier. According to Dávila, voters are enthusiastic and their desire for change will lead to thousands voting for the pro-statehood NPP.

The electoral commissioner predicted this mood will be reflected in the high turnout and broad participation of voters in the upcoming primaries.

Battling for the NPP gubernatorial candidacy will be Ricardo Rosselló Cover 2and Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, while Jenniffer González and Carlos Pesquera are vying to be the NPP resident commissioner candidate.

There will also be 43 mayoral primaries for the 78 municipalities islandwide, as well as dozens of primaries for district and at-large seats in the House and Senate.

Dávila said the NPP primaries are the result of more than two years of electoral and political work, which involved setting up campaign teams at all levels of the process.

The NPP expects to have about 15,000 officials and observers in 2,848 polling stations islandwide, he said.

“I see an atmosphere of great enthusiasm, with broad participation because there are many races at the municipal level. There is much hope that there will be change on Nov. 8, and this is reflected in the number of applicants and expected voters,” Davila said. “I have no doubt that the outcome of the primaries will determine who will be the next governor of Puerto Rico.”

According to some published polls, Bernier is trailing behind both Rosselló and Pierluisi among voters.

PDP Regrouping its Forces for November Elections

The Popular Democratic Party (PDP) expects to have about 1,653 polling stations islandwide for the June 5 primaries, when they estimate about 200,000 people will vote.

The PDP has no primary for governor, as former Secretary of State David Bernier is already the party’s choice for La Fortaleza, so that may explain the expected low voter turnout. The main primary race is between Sen. Ángel Rosa and former Rep. Héctor Ferrer, who are running to be the PDP resident commissioner candidate.

Cover PDPPDP Secretary General Javier Echevarría said there will be primaries in nine municipalities to choose the party’s mayoral candidates, as well as nearly 30 primary races for district and at-large seats in the House and Senate.

Gov. Alejandro García Padilla’s decision not to seek re-election seems to have caused a kind of paralysis in the PDP in terms of nominations at the legislative level, according to some observers. Still, House Speaker Jaime Perelló and Senate President Eduardo Bhatia apparently intend to continue leading their respective delegations even if the PDP loses the majority in the Legislature.

Bhatia and Perelló have an ongoing media campaign to promote their candidacies and their message is focused on convincing voters to continue working with the pro-commonwealth party and Bernier at the helm.
No one else in the PDP delegations in the House and Senate has expressed any interest in positions of leadership in the Legislature—at least not publicly.

However, Sen. Cirilo Tirado, who had aspired to be Senate president after the 2012 elections, has publicly complained that Bhatia has excluded him from the list of incumbent PDP lawmakers seeking re-election, as well as Sen. Rossana López.

Voters’ Rights and Prerogatives Provided in the Electoral Law

Voters’ rights in Puerto Rico include the following:

  • The administration of the electoral bodies of Puerto Rico within a framework of strict impartiality, purity and justice;
  • The guarantee of every person’s right to vote, equally, freely, directly and secretly;
  • The voter’s right to the full vote, the mixed vote, the vote by candidacy and the direct nomination of people to public office under conditions of equality in each case, as defined in the law;
  • The voter’s right to participate in political parties’ registrations
    Liza Garcia, CEE President

    Liza Garcia, CEE President

    and to endorse independent candidates; the voter’s right to join the political party of their choice and to endorse the nomination of candidates for party positions, as defined in the act;

  • The right of affiliated voters to participate in the formulation of internal regulations and the programmatic base of their respective political parties as well as in the election processes of their candidates;
  • The member’s right to due process of law in any internal disciplinary proceedings, as in the deliberative processes and decisions of their political parties;
  • The citizen’s right and every [U.S.] citizen with a right to vote, that in all regular or special election processes being carried out under the provisions of the Electoral Act, including those related to voter registration, voter identification card issuance and other information, that ballots be available in both Spanish and English;
  • That no public or private employer prevents their employees from the right to vote in an election; that this will be the duty of every employer whose company maintains active operations on the day of an election, to establish shifts that allow employees to go to voting centers that correspond to them so they can vote; and that employees be given the necessary time and reasonable opportunity to exercise their right to vote, taking into account, among other factors, the distance between the workplace and the voting center.

Source: Electoral Law of Puerto Rico

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