Is Puerto Rico’s Electoral System Ready for the General Election?


Image via AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File

By Victoria Leandra

September 2, 2020

Puerto Rico’s botched gubernatorial primary elections were suspended after voting centers lacked paper ballots, forcing election officials to postpone the process until next week. 

“We never thought that we’d wake up the day after with no results, or even worse, with all the candidates that have self-proclaimed as winners,” Aliana Bigio Alcoba, founder of the feminist blog Con(Sentimiento,) told The Americano. “That’s what worries me the most; it sets a precedent for what could happen in November’s general election.”

Halting the primaries for the first time in the island’s history is seen by many as the last straw for Puerto Ricans who have already lost confidence in their electoral system, and, moreover, in their local government.

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“The November elections are not viable, given all the irregularities that were committed [in the primaries],” Gerardo Ortiz, actor and radio host based in San Juan, told The Americano. “We’re taught that we can make a difference with our vote, but what difference can I make with a vote if it’s stolen from me and I don’t know if they’re even going to count it.” 

“The November elections are not viable, given all the irregularities that were committed [in the primaries],” Gerardo Ortiz said.

The primaries featured the two main parties on the island: the Progressive New Party (PNP) and the Popular Democratic Party (PPD by its Spanish initials.) The PNP candidates running for governor are current Gov. Wanda Vázquez and former Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi. On the PPD side, the contest includes San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, Isabela Mayor Charlie Delgado and Sen. Eduardo Bhatia. 

For Ortiz, 58, none of these PNP or PPD candidates, whose parties have governed the island for decades, are an option.

“You know what it is to have the most vulnerable group of people during a pandemic, the elderly, waiting hours in line for paper ballots to arrive? That’s criminal,” Ortiz said about Gov. Wanda Vázquez. “They found an ally in the virus, otherwise we would have mobilized into the streets to remove them [from power].”

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Voters weathered the risk of COVID-19 to cast their votes only to find some polling centers didn’t have voting equipment like ballot machines or enough personnel. Several town mayors, like those in Adjuntas, Yauco and Coamo, decided to suspend their primaries after the voting process never started due to a lack of paper ballots, or started later than scheduled, after voters had already left. Out of the 110 precincts on the island, 59 couldn’t complete the electoral process. 

Bigio Alcoba, a 22-year-old law student, says people shouldn’t get discouraged and, on the contrary, should become more active in the election process in response to what occurred.

“They want us to feel like voting doesn’t change anything, that everything is ruined, that our political institutions are corrupt. That’s precisely what they want to do,” Bigio Alcoba told The Americano

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But who exactly does the fiasco benefit? Ortiz believes it favors Boricuas, after all.

“This benefits us, the people, if we use it to our advantage,” Ortiz told The Americano. “With this, we confirm once more, the corruption [on the island], which had previously been done in secret, they’re now doing it without qualms, in our faces.”

Meanwhile, no one has fully assumed responsibility for what happened during the Sunday primaries. Juan Ernesto Dávila, president of Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission, blamed the ballot debacle on various factors, including the pandemic, Tropical Storm Isaías, and a last-minute request from the two main parties to print more than 75,000 additional ballots.

Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board issued a statement late Sunday saying it had fully funded the Elections Commission and a lack of money could not be to blame. They just approved an additional $1.27 million to continue the primaries next Sunday. 

“At the end of the day, it’s not even about the political parties,” Bigio Alcoba told The Americano. “It’s a fight for the little things we have left of our democratic practices, the only thing we have left in this colony.”



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