A judge ordered the local State Elections Commission to provide a list of early-voting requests to officials. The situation took a sudden turn for the worse.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—The general audit of votes started on Wednesday at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum, 10 days after it was originally scheduled. The count lasted four hours and ended in a heated altercation.
Rebecca de León Ortiz, San Juan’s Court of First Instance judge, ordered Francisco Rosado, president of the local State Elections Commission (CEE by its Spanish initials), to deliver the registry of early voters to electoral commissioners.
The Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana (MVC) party sued the CEE on Nov. 12, requesting electoral commissioners to provide lists of early voters who actually voted. The judge gave the CEE a deadline of Wednesday at noon to deliver the lists.
When Olvin Valentín, MVC electoral commissioner, realized on Wednesday that electoral officials had just started working on the general scrutiny at around 2 p.m., without providing the early-voter lists to the CEE, he denounced the agency as contemptuous.
The judge ordered the CEE to deliver the lists to the commissioners, bringing the audit process to a halt.
Tensions rose between electoral officials of all parties after Ferdinand Ocasio Vélez, director of the audit for the CEE, ordered the count to stop.
After Ocasio’s announcement, Héctor Joaquín Sánchez, New Progressive Party (PNP by its Spanish initials) electoral commissioner, grabbed the microphone and ordered his party affiliates to continue the count until the last vote.
The situation became tense, and officials from different parties began to push and shout at each other. Some officials were dragged away from the first floor of the coliseum.
Valentín told El Vocero that armed police officers arrived soon after.
“This should not happen,” Valentín said, commenting on Sánchez’s defiant attitude. “The commissioner reacted out of anger. The court had issued an order—causing this situation does not benefit anyone.”
Roberto Iván Aponte, electoral commissioner of the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP by its Spanish initials), asked for Ocasio’s resignation.
On Thursday, Rosado said the judge’s order would cause further delays to the general audit. He said it was “highly unlikely” the process would be complete by Jan. 2, when elected officials are sworn in.
The elections commission president said it will take his agency three to four days to make copies of the early voting lists. Obtaining these lists will create other problems, Rosado said, because officials from the Administrative Board of Absent and Early Voting (JAVAA by its Spanish initials), at some point stopped writing the names of voters on the envelopes as they were received.
Further complicating matters, an official working on the audit tested positive for COVID-19. People who were in contact with him were quarantined. Ocasio is among the officials exposed.
Aponte told El Nuevo Día that the COVID situation will not cancel the audit but will affect it.
“It does not endanger the audit, but it disrupts jobs,” the PIP commissioner said. “You have to allocate staff for each of the tasks being done.”