SAN JUAN – By 4:19 am Wednesday, when the State Elections Commission (CEE by its Spanish initials) took a break from counting, Pedro Pierluisi, the gubernatorial candidate for the New Progressive Party (NPP) was up 1.04 percent, with only 4.11 percent of the vote left to count.
CEE Chairman Fransisco Rosado Colomer was emphatic that these are not the final results and that the commission will certify a winner only after the last votes are tabulated.
“These results do not constitute, nor should they be interpreted as final results,” Rosado Colomer said at a 11:46 pm press conference in which he announced the partial results in accordance with the Puerto Rico Electoral Code of 2020.
With Pierluisi’s 32.4 percent of the votes and 31.36 percent for Popular Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Charlie Delgado, whoever is the next governor is on route to win by the smallest plurality of votes since Puerto Ricans have had elected governors. This year’s election would also be the third consecutive one where the gubernatorial candidate wins by a plurality of votes instead of a majority.
By contrast, minority parties are growing in their share of the electorate. In third position, Alexandra Lúgaro, from Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana (MVC, or Citizens’ Victory Movement) recieved 14.53 percent of the votes, and Juan Dalmau of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP by its Spanish acronym), got 13.94 percent. César Vázquez, of Proyecto Dignidad (PD, or Project Dignity) acquired 7.06 percent. Given that candidates for the resident commissioner seat in the US Congress — who share a ticket with gubernatorial candidates on the state ballot — got more than 2 percent of the vote, all parties surpassed the threshold established in the election code to remain registered as parties.
The atypical results were not limited to the state ballot. The mayoral race for the capital, San Juan, took a turn late last night, with Rep. Manuel Natal Albelo, of MVC, pulling ahead of NPP candidate Miguel Romero. This race is within the 0.5 percent margin. If this percentage remains after all votes are counted, the code provides for a recount. Additionally, the municipalities of Culebra and Guánica are also within the recount margin.
The legislature is also showing a different party composition to previous terms. Former Sen. María De Lourdes Santiago (PIP) is in the first place among the 11 at-large senators, while incumbent PIP Rep. Dennis Márquez Lebrón is the second-highest vote-getter for at-large candidates in the lower chamber. Likewise, MVC got all four of its at-large candidates for both the House and Senate, and activist Eva Prados Rodríguez has a 3.1 point lead over incumbent Rep. Juan Oscar Morales in San Juan’s third representative district. Project Dignity also succeeded in getting its at-large Senate candidate, Joanne Rodríguez Veve, and her counterpart in the House firmly among the top 11 positions.
As it stands, the PDP has a narrow majority in the Senate, with 14 out of 27 seats; however, one of those seats is within the recount margin. In the House, no party reached a majority, but the PDP is closest, with 25 seats, falling short of only one to reach a majority.
The race for resident commissioner and the statehood plebiscite saw far more definitive results. Incumbent US Rep. Jenniffer González (NPP) held a comfortable distance from former Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá (PDP) throughout the night. Although her numbers dropped by late Tuesday and early Wednesday, with 94.07 percent of the votes counted, she had 40.47 percent of the vote and Acevedo Vilá, who already conceded, had 31.85 percent. As for the yes-or-no vote on whether to annex Puerto Rico as a state, the “Yes” vote got 52.19 percent and “No” got 47.81 percent.
Although the general election turned out to be a smoother process than the August primaries, the Covid-19 pandemic, the implementation of a new elections code and other technical issues delayed the early vote count, left long lines even after polls closed and impeded the CEE from announcing results consistently.
Election commissioners Roberto Iván Aponte and Nicolás Gautier Vega, of the PIP and PDP, respectively, explained that the early vote count, which encountered difficulties over the week, had slowed down because parties had to send poll workers to regular voting centers to assist with the Election Day ballot count.
Gautier indicated in a press conference that out of the 110 regular tables, only 38 were operational, plus the additional 12 special tables that are used for processing ballots manually when a counting machine cannot process a ballot due to an error.
NPP election Commissioner Héctor Joaquín Sánchez, who expressed strong disapproval at the slow-down of the early vote count, indicated that by election night only one-fourth of the early vote had been counted. For his part, Aponte argued Tuesday evening that, although the Administrative Board on Early Voting (JAVA by its Spanish acronym) had prioritized counting the state ballot, he was unsure about whether the early vote count could be completed by Election Day.
“In recent days, it has sped up, but I do not dare to predict that they can count 100 percent of the ballots. There are about 694,000 ballots and it is a lot of ballots. But today we are focusing on the state ballot. Our intention is to try to get closer to 100 percent to give these results starting at five in the afternoon, ”Aponte said.
The problem JAVA encountered is that, due to the pandemic, mail-in voting was expanded, resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of voters opting for this method.
While JAVA was working on getting early-vote results, Election Day polling units experienced long lines throughout the day and by 5 pm, when the polling centers where set to close, the CEE chairman confirmed that everyone that one in line at 5 pm would be given the chance to vote. These extended-period queues also took hours to process.
The NPP election commissioners said the problem was that the former CEE chairman, Juan Ernesto Dávila, put the per-polling place quota at 400 voters, instead of the NPP proposal of 325 voters per polling center. The PDP commissioner argued that the issue was the merging and closing of polling units.
Announcing the election results also presented a challenge, which the CEE chairman acknowledged. “The reality is that this night we’ve had some stumbles in the transmission of information.”
For hours, the CEE’s web page crashed and access in the CEE pressroom to the results was limited. The CEE director of Information Systems, Eduardo Nieves, assured the press that the transmission between polling centers and the CEE was “working like a Swiss watch” and that the problem was specific to the connection to the CEE website.