Puerto Rico Supreme Court halts attempt to release botched-primary results
Party chief laments decision, says voting leaks hurt democratic process
SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico Supreme Court ordered Wednesday the halting of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) process to begin counting votes and issuing results at 36 electoral precincts in which the party’s primary elections were completed on Sunday.
The PDP governing board had decided Monday to do its own vote counting process at the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission’s (SEC) vote-counting center at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in Hato Rey, despite the SEC’s and party electoral commissioner’s agreement on Sunday to hold off disclosure of voting results until the primary voting process is completed next Sunday, Aug. 16.
“All parties are advised that the issues that are the object of the certified appeals before the Court’s consideration are paralyzed, including those related to the counting, scrutiny and disclosure of the votes cast in the primaries last Sunday,” the island’s high court said in its ruling. “Consequently, any party that defies our orders is subject to being referred to contempt proceedings.”
The ruling notes that associate justices Erik Kolthoff Caraballo and Mildred Gail Pabón Charneco decided not to “intervene” in the court’s decision. The court did not provide an explanation for this.
Puerto Rico Supreme Court Associate Justice Ángel Colón Pérez had issued an order on Tuesday to place under its supervision all ballots in the possession of the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission (SEC) that were cast in the elections Sunday, to ensure the carrying out of court rulings in the case.
PPD primary gubernatorial candidate Eduardo Bhatia, whose lawsuit seeking that the primary voting be resumed immediately and that SEC disclose partial voting results has been taking up by the island’s high court, had called Tuesday for official vote counting and reporting of results to avoid the leaking of electoral results that have not been certified by the SEC. He said that the process would not involve vote scrutiny but the printing out of results from vote-counting machines corresponding to each polling station.
However, Gov. Wanda Vázquez, who is vying to be the New Progressive Party (NPP) standard-bearer in the Nov. 3 general elections, filed a lawsuit taken up by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court that petitions the court to put a halt to “malicious leaks of electoral results with the obvious purpose of unduly influencing electors who still have not exercised their right to vote.” In the lawsuit, she accuses her opponent, former Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, of using the leaks to “unduly influence the electorate that still has not been able to cast a vote.”
Pierluisi, who has filed his own court challenge against the SEC decision, which the island’s top court has also taken up, argues that the SEC is obligated by electoral law to disclose partial results from votes cast on Sunday. However, Vázquez argues in her lawsuit that the 2020 Electoral Code provisions concerning disclosure of electoral results do not apply because the primary election has not been completed. She said that disclosing election results at this stage “cannot pursue any other purpose than to contaminate the electorate that has not voted.”
Upon learning of the island’s high court decision Tuesday, PDP Electoral Commissioner Lind Merle Feliciano said that the party would “abide by the decision, no matter the consequences.”
“We are the party of social justice but also of law and order,” he told reporters.
PDP President Aníbal José Torres regretted the court decision, saying that it will encourage “speculation” and “uncertainty” over who is ahead in the primary votes. He said this “creates a bad environment and in some way undermines the certainty and trust in the process.”
“To avoid these leaks we wanted to give out official preliminary results,” said Torres, who noted that under the current circumstances, this would be “the least bad decision” of all that have been made in the primary elections process so far.
He said that “some candidates” and “colleagues,” who he did not name, are “thinking individually and going over the collective” interest to leak results that “give the impression they are ahead, but this is not true because they are not official.”
He said that press leaks of presumed election results from polling station data have “lacerated the democratic process and have created distrust in the electoral process.”
In fact, in a departure from the party position on the issue, one of the PDP gubernatorial candidates, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, tweeted that she agrees with the court decision. The PDP governing board had rejected on Monday a resolution presented by Cruz requesting that primaries be held anew, but that votes already cast by convicts and bedridden patients as well as early voting ballots be counted.
“In the PDP governing board [meeting] I expressed that votes cast should NOT be counted because the process HAS NOT BEEN COMPLETED and it is a way to influence the majority of the country that has not voted. The PDP decided to count. I do not think that is the correct thing to do,” said the mayor, who is the only gubernatorial hopeful to not have contested the primaries in court.