Party calls on SEC to ready vote, begin counting ballots cast on Sunday
SAN JUAN – The Popular Democratic Party (PDP) governing board approved a resolution on Monday calling on Gov. Wanda Vázquez to declare Thursday, Aug. 13, a holiday to resume primary voting in precincts where the process could not be done due to undelivered ballots.
During a press conference after the meeting of the governing board, PDP President Aníbal José Torres assured that its ballot briefcases are ready to be delivered to polling stations. He said that while the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission (SEC) still owed the party ballots, these constitute a reserve in case the number of voters exceeds projections.
Printech, the Cayey-based company hired by the SEC to print the primary ballots, was claimed to have failed to deliver more than 500,000 ballots. Countering criticism by New Progressive Party (NPP) and PDP officials, a legal advisor for Printech claimed on Monday that the SEC had not made any payments for printing the ballots, even though the company did the work according to the “requests and purchase orders made by the SEC. "
Torres said it is now up to SEC President Juan Ernesto Dávila to coordinate the delivery of ballots and other election materials to the polling stations that could not complete primary voting on Sunday. Drivers with trucks filled with unused ballots assigned to polling stations waited for instructions outside the SEC’s vote-counting center at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in Hato Rey on Monday.
“What is the SEC going to do with the contracted truckers to make sure they arrive [with the ballots] on Thursday or the determined day… so that what happens on Sunday does not happen again? Torres asked.
"The printing press said today [Monday] that they haven’t been paid a nickel for all of the ballots they have printed," the PDP president continued. “The governor said two weeks ago that all of the funds to carry out the primaries were assigned and that there was no reason for not holding them. And the fiscal oversight board said that the government had the necessary monies to run the primary process… Someone is failing in the management of this. The SEC president can’t say he does not have the necessary resources. And if he doesn’t, then he must make demands on his NPP government, who was the one who put him there. "
Governor weighs executive order
In an interview with a Spanish-language newspaper on Monday, Gov. Vázquez, who herself is vying to stay in office, said she would consider signing an executive order to grant a day off to allow the continuation of the primaries, which were suspended by the SEC on Sunday after ballots were not delivered to more than half of the island's precincts. Still, the governor added that the SEC would have to assure her that the situation that occurred on Sunday would not repeat itself on the day selected to complete primary voting.
In shaky consensus between Dávila, NPP President Thomas Rivera Schatz and Torres, agreed to reschedule voting for the precincts that did not receive ballots for next Sunday, Aug. 16. They also had agreed not to disclose voting results until balloting is concluded .
Many voters on Sunday were turned away from polling places that had not received ballots and told to return later.
Vázquez said that upon learning of the SEC’s decision, she told her campaign manager that she preferred to have continued the primaries on Tuesday or Wednesday.
The PDP governing board also approved a resolution that calls on Dávila to order the counting of votes cast on Sunday and disclose partial results. Trucks full of ballots cast at precincts throughout the island arrived at the SEC’s vote-counting center at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum on Monday, but Dávila called on NPP and PDP electoral commissioners to “execute the logistics of receiving and guarding the electoral material.”
“We cannot allow speculation to continue. The primary candidates were all in agreement with this, ”Torres said in reference to vote results.
After the governing board meeting, PDP primary gubernatorial candidate Eduardo Bhatia, who filed a lawsuit against the SEC to order the vote counting and the continuation of the primaries before Sunday, claimed that “fake news” about the electoral results were being spread in the media.
"Puerto Rico deserves to be told the truth," he said, noting that "lies and gossip" were plaguing the process.
Isabela Mayor Charlie Delgado Altieri, who is also running for the PDP gubernatorial nomination, filed a lawsuit later on Monday against the SEC's Dávila and the NPP and PDP electoral commissioners petitioning the San Juan Superior Court to invalidate Sunday's SEC decision postponing the primaries until Sunday and order a continuation of primary voting no later than Thursday.
"The purpose of the vote taking place in a single event is to guarantee that persons are in equal conditions at the moment of casting their vote, so that it is just and equitable," reads the lawsuit filed by Delgado's legal counsel, attorney José Francisco Chaves Caraballo. “Spliting voting seven days apart… unreasonably disrupts this electoral principle. In order to minimize this inequality in the votes to be cast, this [court] should exercise its authority and order the [SEC] to carry out the continuation of the primary no later than 72 hours, in other words, no further than Aug. 13, 2020. "
Delgado’s lawsuit joins those filed by Bhatia, NPP gubernatorial candidate Pedro Pierluisi and the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to invalidate the SEC decision and hold the continuation of the primaries before Sunday and report preliminary voting results.
On Monday, Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court said it accepted the Electoral Review appeal filed by Pierluisi for the results of the votes cast Sunday to be disclosed. The court granted the SEC and the electoral commissioners until 2 p.m. Tuesday to express why the results of the votes already cast should not be revealed.
Torres said that the PDP governing board rejected a resolution proposed by San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, also on the ballot for the gubernatorial nomination, requesting the SEC to redo the primary election, but continue counting votes already cast by convicts and bedridden patients as well as early voting ballots.
Contrary to what Cruz had suggested, the governing board voted unanimously to request that voting be resumed only in the precincts in which no voting took place on Sunday, the PDP president said.
Cruz – who is not a member of the party governing board – has argued that the PDP primary was put at a disadvantage because its ballots were shipped later than for the NPP primaries. However, Torres said this was not always the case because in some municipalities like Hormigueros, the PDP ballots arrived first.
Nonetheless, after the board meeting, the San Juan Mayor called on PDP electors who have not voted to flock in masse to vote on the date set for the primary continuation.
“If the decision of the governing board is to disclose results already obtained, don’t allow yourselves to be trampled,” she called on voters. “Voting was completed in 38 precincts, but has yet to be completed in 72 precincts in all of Puerto Rico. The die is not cast. "
Cruz added: “Remember what they said of me the night before election day [in 2012] and here I am as mayor of the capital city. Whoever wants to use that as an advantage, if that is the decision of the board, the [PDP] electors must vote in masse. "
Special session requested to revoke new Electoral Code
Asked whether he would support allow the casting of ballots by voters who left and did not return to polling places that later received the ballots and completed the process, Torres replied that this could not be done because the polling stations complied with the required eight hours of voting.
The PDP governing board also called on Gov. Vázquez to convoke a special session of the Legislative Assembly to repeal the new Electoral Code she signed into law on June 20, which the PDP and other opposition parties say has undermined the SEC's work and put the electoral process at the behest of the party in power , namely the NPP.
Torres said that the NPP was swept into power in the 2016 general elections "under the guarantees of the previous electoral code, adding that the NPP had" no valid arguments against. "