Puerto Rico struggles with botched primary election

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Puerto Rico’s government, politicians, and people struggled with how to deal with a botched Sunday primary.

Many voting places had ballots delivered several hours late or not at all on Sunday. According to the electoral coordinator for Eduardo Bhatia, candidate for governor in the Popular Democratic Party, only 38 of 110 voting precincts completed the voting process.

On Monday the leading candidates were arguing when another election date should be set, whether votes in the first election should be counted, and, if so, when they should be counted and announced.

Pedro Pierluisi
Puerto Rico gubernatorial candidate Pedro Pierluisi is asking for Sunday's primary votes to be immediately counted and announced even though there will be more voting.

There were problems with transporting the ballots Sunday morning. Another issue is that some of the ballots hadn’t been delivered to the central repository by Sunday morning, said Puerto Rico attorney John Mudd.

The territory’s election commission and both major parties — the PDP and New Progressive Party — knew that all ballots wouldn’t be ready by Sunday morning, Mudd said. Gov. Wanda Vázquez could have called an emergency meeting of the legislature before Sunday and had the legislature postpone the election, but she did not.

On Sunday voters were supposed to choose among three gubernatorial candidates for the PDP, two candidates for the NPP, house and senate and local candidates in these parties. There may also have been some primary voting in the island’s minor parties.

The NPP supports statehood for Puerto Rico. The PDP supports the “commonwealth” status that preceded the Oversight Board’s imposition or something similar to it. In recent years less than 5% of islanders have supported independence from the U.S.A.

On Sunday afternoon the island’s election commission suspended the voting. Mudd said there wasn’t anything in Puerto Rico law that allowed the suspension of the voting.

There are rumors that Vázquez was trailing her challenger Pedro Pierluisi badly at the polls. On Sunday shesupported stopping the vote, which could potentially aid her, Mudd said.

It was unclear if the vote was botched through incompetence, deliberate planning, or a combination, Mudd said.

Some are saying Charles Delgado had the most votes Sunday to be the PDP’s gubernatorial candidate, said Vicente Feliciano, president of Advantage Business Consulting. Since 2001 Delgado has been mayor of Isabela, a city of 46,000.

Delgado is somewhat to the left of PDP gubernatorial candidate Eduardo Bhatia but to the right of PDP gubernatorial candidate Carmen Yulín Cruz, Feliciano said.

Compared to Vázquez, Pierluisi is more committed to statehood, more allied to the business community, Feliciano said. He worked in the past for the Oversight Board and may be friendlier to it than recent governors.

Even in the 1940s, Puerto Rico succeeded in delivering ballots to election places, Feliciano said. If the local government can’t execute an election it gives the board more standing. However, the board is “falling apart,” he said, referring to three members this summer who said they would be leaving the board.

The Office of Management and Budget said that $61.6 million was allocated to the election commission in the 2016-17 fiscal year, the last major election year. This year the board’s budget allocated $42.6 million to the commission.

On Sunday evening the board sent out a statement decrying the election breakdown and saying the commission was adequately funded. “The disruptions today are the result inefficient organization at an agency that only two weeks ago struggled to procure the printing of ballots for an election that was originally supposed to take place on June 7. This is not an issue of funding.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit to declare that Sunday’s closure of polls illegal and to order the immediate resumption of the vote.

Pierluisi and Bhatia have filed lawsuits seeking the immediate counting of those ballots cast and the announcement of the results so far. The Puerto Rico Supreme Court, which has consolidated the two candidate’s suits, has agreed to hear the suit.

Some candidates are saying there should be a second round of primary voting on Sunday. But the day and nature of any additional voting hasn’t yet been settled.

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