Puerto Rico’s Election Debacle Explained


Image via AP Photo/Carlos Giusti

By Mivette Vega

November 24, 2020

An unprecedented amount of early votes and a new electoral law have affected the counting process. Three weeks later, there are still no certified winners.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—Puerto Rican voters are waiting for the official results from the general election held three weeks ago. 

The Puerto Rico State Elections Commission (CEE by its Spanish initials) faced a series of hurdles before and during the election. In addition to August’s botched primary, when a lack of voting materials prevented dozens of polling centers from opening, the public’s trust in the agency has been compromised. 

Francisco Rosado, the CEE president, blames the situation on an unprecedented number of early votes that the Administrative Board of Absentee and Early Voting (JAVAA by its Spanish initials) was not ready to handle. This year, mostly because of the pandemic, JAVAA received 227,000 requests to vote early.

Some officials blamed the ongoing problems on a new law approved by the governor in June—two months before the primary—which led to changes that included the easing of restrictions for absentee and early voting and the elimination of departments and high-ranking positions within the electoral commission. These measures resulted in the resignation of longtime officials within the agency.  

READ MORE: Experts Worry About Puerto Rico’s Rapid Rise in COVID Cases

This timeline shows the chronology of events delaying the process of obtaining final election results.

  • Nov. 3—General Elections. Voters submitted multiple reports that machines in their polling sites were not reading the ballots. The CEE website crashed, making it impossible to follow the vote count. The CEE does not announce preliminary results. The agency traditionally reports the tally on election night, but the record number of early and absentee votes overwhelmed officials. Regardless, Pedro Pierluisi, the New Progressive Party (PNP by its Spanish initials) candidate, proclaimed himself as the new governor during a speech at the party headquarters.
  • Nov. 4—Charlie Delgado, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD by its Spanish initials) candidate for governor, brought attention to—as he put it—cardboard briefcases containing “some 50,000 uncounted votes.”
  • Nov. 5—The CEE said they found 320 briefcases, and that some of them contained leftover voting materials—not all of them had uncounted ballots.
  • Nov. 6—JAVAA continued to count the votes. The CEE was unable to report how many ballots remain to be counted.
  • Nov. 7—Miguel Romero, PNP candidate for mayor of San Juan, and opponent Manuel Natal of the Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana party disputed the vote count. Romero was preliminarily certified by the CEE; Natal did not accept defeat because of alleged irregularities. A cardboard coffin with his name was spotted at the JAVAA vote-counting location, adding to the tension.
  • Nov. 8—The CEE gives a preliminary certification to Pierluisi as the winner for the governor post and Jenniffer González as the resident commissioner.
  • Nov. 9A general scrutiny of votes is canceled because JAVAA needed to organize the content of the cardboard briefcases before tallying the votes. Ballots in 100 briefcases needed to be counted. The loss of memory cards from several counting machines was also reported. Nicolás Gautier, Popular Democratic Party (PPD by its Spanish initials) electoral commissioner, asked CEE President Francisco Rosado for an “immediate” investigation of early mail-in ballot tallies because the numbers did not match.
  • Nov. 10—The CEE confirmed there were 182 cardboard briefcases containing uncounted ballots.
  • Nov. 11—Francisco Rosado fired JAVAA Director Vilma Rosado because of the agency’s lack of organization and the discovery of the cardboard briefcases with uncounted ballots in a vault. 
  • Nov. 12MVC sues the CEE to stop the general scrutiny process and verify lists of voters who requested early voting. CEE President Francisco Rosado asked the Office of the Inspector General to audit the handling of general election ballots—how they were sent and received. Rosado confirmed more cardboard briefcases with uncounted ballots had surfaced.
  • Nov. 13Gautier resigned. Delgado named lawyer Gerardo “Toñito” Cruz the new electoral commissioner of the party.
  • Nov. 14—The CEE confirmed there were 46,003 ballots within 125 of the cardboard briefcases that surfaced. These included 8,927 state, 11,491 legislative, 12,738 municipal, and 12,847 plebiscite ballots.
  • Nov. 15—Government transition hearings began without an official winner, although according to preliminary results, Pierluisi won the governor’s seat. The general vote scrutiny could not begin because the counting of found ballots continued. Delgado said “I do not know if I lost the elections or not” because of the number of irregularities during the vote-counting process. He said he was compiling evidence to prove electoral fraud.
  • Nov. 16—Government transition hearings continue.
  • Nov. 18—The general audit of votes started 10 days after it was originally scheduled. Judge Rebecca de León Ortiz, San Juan’s Court of First Instance judge, ordered Francisco Rosado to deliver the registry of early voters to electoral commissioners, bringing the audit process to a halt. 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. 
  • Nov. 19—On Thursday, Francisco Rosado said the judge’s order would cause further delays in the general audit. He said it was “highly unlikely” the process would be complete by Jan. 2, when elected officials are sworn in. An official working on the audit tested positive for COVID-19. People who were in contact with him were quarantined. 
  • Nov. 20—Seven additional cardboard briefcases containing 2,000 uncounted votes are found. Electoral officials make copies of the electoral lists ordered by the judge.
  • Nov. 23—Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court ordered the continuation of the general audit and stated that the process cannot be interrupted. It also established that any early or hand-added vote in dispute will be referred to the CEE for discussion. The court also ordered that the early voting and absentee voting lists requested by MVC be shared with the corresponding electoral officials when the briefcase for their specific precinct is opened.
  • Nov. 24—The general audit resumes.


CATEGORIES: Elections | Puerto Rico | Voting


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