Puerto Rico’s Primaries Did Not Go Well. Here’s What Happened.


image via AP Photo/Danica Coto

By Mivette Vega

August 10, 2020

Gov. Wanda Vázquez asked the electoral commission to resume the election on Tuesday or Wednesday, while gubernatorial candidate Pedro Pierluisi goes to the Supreme Court to request a count of votes already in.

SAN JUAN— For the first time in Puerto Rico’s history, an election had to be halted, leaving thousands of citizens mired in anger, frustration, and disappointment. 

On Sunday, the primaries had to be partially suspended because of a shortage of paper ballots. Thousands of voters were not able to exercise their right to vote, since many voting centers did not receive their electoral materials.

On Tuesday, the presumptive presidential democratic nominee, Joe Biden, issued a statement calling the situation at the primaries “unacceptable. For decades, elections in Puerto Rico were known for high participation rates and transparency. It was a process that many took pride in. It is unacceptable that the people of Puerto Rico, who waited in line on Sunday in the midst of a global pandemic, were denied the right to vote. Their voices must be heard. Our democracy only works when every citizen has the ability to exercise their right to vote. Every vote must count.”

READ MORE: Here’s Everything Florida Voters Need to Know About Voting by Mail

On Monday, Carlos “Johnny” Méndez, president of the island’s House of Representatives, demanded that the electoral commission release the results of the nearly 60 out of 110 precincts where voting was able to take place on Sunday.

The Popular Democratic Party (PPD by its Spanish initials) assured that 31 of their precincts received the ballots, which means that 62.7% of the precincts were not able to vote island-wide.

Several offices are up for election in the two major parties—the PPD and the Progressive New Party (PNP). The gubernatorial candidates are among the most important races in election.

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Within the PNP, the candidates competing for the governor’s office are current Gov. Wanda Vázquez, and former Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi. Both candidates served as replacements for former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who resigned last year after a chat scandal.

The PPD has three candidates for governor: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia, Isabela Mayor Charlie Delgado, and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

These are the events that marked a historic date for Puerto Ricans, the latest in a string of governmental failures:

  • Voters braved the recent spike of COVID-19 cases on the island and started arriving at the voting precincts at around 8 a.m. In many precincts, voters found that ballots were not available
  • Voting centers around the island, especially in the northwest, claimed they had not received ballots. The State Elections Commission (CEE by its Spanish initials) establishes that when a voting center opens, it must serve the voters for eight hours.
  • Candidates and officials from both political parties urged people to remain in the voting centers or come back after 12 or 1 p.m.
  • Hundreds of trucks with ballots were parked at Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan at noon, waiting for instructions. Some drivers who have worked in previous elections said they had “never seen” a situation like this before.
  • Thomas Rivera Schatz, president of the PNP, and Aníbal José Torres, president of the PPD, announced that the primaries would be stopped until next Sunday and that the voting centers with ballots on hand would continue receiving voters and complete the required eight-hour process. Centers without materials would resume the voting on Sunday, August 16.
  • Cruz accused Gov. Vázquez of having “killed democracy,” blaming her for the situation, especially after instituting electoral reforms. After the reforms went into effect, some vice-presidential electoral commissioners were fired, and according to the San Juan mayor, those officials had the necessary expertise to deal with an electoral event.

  • Vázquez called the polling situation “a disaster” and blamed Juan E. Dávila, president of the CEE, for the problems, asking for his resignation. 
  • Dávila assumed part of the responsibility for the primary election chaos, but said he was not the only one to blame. According to Dávila, the ballot printing company should be held responsible, as well as officials from both political parties for their directives. He said that after the primaries are over, he will deliberate over whether to resign or not. 
  • CEE resolved not to reveal the partial count of votes from Sunday. For that reason, voting machines were turned off.
  • Some of the results were leaked on social media, giving Pierluisi the lead for the PNP and Charlie Delgado, the PPD. Vázquez stated she could file a complaint regarding the leaked results.

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This story has been updated to include Joe Biden’s comments on Puerto Rico’s primary.



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