Voters express urgency for change in apparently large turnout in Puerto Rico elections
Hours-long delays expected after 5 p.m. poll closing due to long lines
SAN JUAN — General election voting began in Puerto Rico Tuesday morning with thousands of voters waiting in long lines outside polling stations throughout the island, as many of them told Caribbean Business that they were voting for change and that corruption and misgovernment were on their minds when they cast their ballots.
Voters had until 5 p.m. to go to their assigned polling stations and cast their ballots for governor, resident commissioner, commonwealth lawmakers, mayors and municipal lawmakers. There were long lines at polling places throughout the island with waiting periods of up to three hours in some locations, as social distancing measures were implemented amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic emergency. However, the 6-feet distancing rules were not observed in voting places visited by Caribbean Business, and which, nevertheless, had block-long lines.
There were also reports of ballot counting machines that were not working properly at polling stations throughout the island.
Puerto Rico State Elections Commission (SEC) President Francisco Rosado Colmer announced during a press conference just after 5 p.m. that voters who were still waiting in line after polls closed will be given waiting slips to vote, with the cutoff being the last person in line. According to reports, there were still long lines outside of polling stations as of this hour. The SEC is scheduled to issue a preliminary certified result of the election by 10 p.m., and a final report by 6 a.m.
At the polling place located in the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School in the Levittown subdivision of the municipality of Toa Baja, voters were waiting in lines that snaked out of the building and into the school courtyard.
Puerto Rico’s battered economy—which has received blows from fiscal bankruptcy, two hurricanes in 2017, the January 2020 earthquakes, and the current pandemic—as well as corruption and government mismanagement were on the minds of many voters. Most said they voted for change, regardless of whether they belonged to the incumbent New Progressive Party (NPP).
Many split-ticket ballots
Retiree Víctor Soto, 56, who was wearing a star-spangled face mask, said he was concerned about Puerto Rico’s poor fiscal state, which he said has led to a “poorer country.” The statehood supporter said he usually voted for the pro-statehood NPP but on Tuesday voted split ticket.
“I voted ‘yes’ on the statehood ballot, for Pierluisi on the governor’s ballot, and for other ballots I looked for other alternatives,” he said.
Durmaris Durán, 36, said she originally had not intended to vote but was moved to cast a ballot for “all we have been through in these four years.”
“We need change to get out of this hole we are in,” said the nurse. “There is too much corruption. You cannot have any stability and health with this situation. If the economy falls, our health is affected.” She added that the government could have handled the Covid-19 pandemic emergency better.
“We need to get the thievery out,” said Israel Rivera, 86. “There has to be another way. There is too much corruption. There has to be a new leadership.”
Nancy Cruz, 58, and Sonia López, 48, were conversing outside the school when Caribbean Business caught up with them. They both said that they had cast split-ticket ballots for the first time in their lives.
“This is a right that everyone has. Something must be done to change what’s going on in this country [Puerto Rico],” Cruz said, adding that the issues that weighed on her vote were corruption and health.
“I voted for change, for a cleaner and more transparent government,” López said.
Both women declined to disclose who they voted for.
Marcial Motas, 62, retired, who had not voted in the previous 2016 general election, said he was motivated to cast a ballot this time around because “there are people representing us who are not really representing us.” He said many current elected officials are “people you would not work for” judging by their activities in the government.
“It is regrettable that I vote straight ticket for someone who then hires his girlfriend and pays her $10,000 a month,” he said, referring to the recent court-ordered disclosure of employee payrolls handled by Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly lawmakers. “I can’t even earn that much working hard all-year-round.”
Motas, who said corruption was “rampant” in the government, added that his son called him in the morning to make sure he voted. He said he voted split ticket for “known, experienced” candidates from different parties.
“I chose candidates that I believe have done something. I did not choose unknown candidates because the government is not a simple thing,” he said.
Yunesca Rivera, 26, a student of chemistry who recently graduated, said she based her preferences on the content of party platforms, particularly in the areas of health, education and the environment.
She said that she voted split-ticket, including casting a ballot for environmentalist Myrna Conty, a senate candidate of the Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana (MVC, or Citizens’ Victory Movement).
“My chief concern is the environment,” she said.
Jaynise Cabrera, 27, shopping clerk, said that she voted for Pedro Pierluisi for governor and for Toa Baja PDP mayoral candidate.She said that she was not happy with incumbent Toa Baja Mayor Betito Márquez García.
“He has not done much nor has he been addressing the needs of the people,” she said. “We need a change for the country, for a new generation that is coming up behind me and we need a better future for them.”
Orlando Velázquez, 43, said he voted in response to the lack of government planning involving economic, educational, environmental and elderly care issues.
“Everything has to change here,” he said.
Polling station mishaps
There were many reports that ballot reading machines were rejecting ballots because they were not being marked properly. This contributed to delays in voting.
Itzamarie Álvarez, 27, had to wait an hour and a half before she could cast her ballot, in part due to problems with the ballot reading machine. She said that the wait was much longer than in the 2016 elections, when she was a party official at a polling station.
“Social distancing is being done here and that takes time to tell the people,” she said. “And the machines are not reading the ballots. I had to wait 40 minutes outside the classroom before I could vote. I heard that there are problems with the machines because people continue marking the ballots wrong.”
SEC officials also attributed the long lines at polls to the number of ballots being voted, which include the statehood referendum ballot, and the redistribution of voters to different polling stations given that many schools have been closed since 2016.
Monserrate Nieves, 55, a driver, said she was not allowed to vote at Albizu Campos High School even though she had lived in Levittown for years. She was told to vote at the school near her previous address in Bayamón, even though she was allowed to vote at Albizu Campos in 2016 after her name was added to the polling list.
“In the system I appear as if I vote in Bayamón even though I have lived in Levittown more than 25 years,” she said. “I was given a letter here so that I could vote in Bayamón without having to wait in line. There was a lady before me who had a similar issue.”
On Tuesday morning, some 216,000 electors had cast early voting ballots before Tuesday’s voting, of which about 49,000 were sent through the mail, according to the Absentee Ballot Administration (JAVA for its Spanish initials). These ballots started to be counted on Oct. 27.