From machines that arrived with registered votes to some units where the list of excluded voters never arrived are some of the findings found by observers of the Puerto Rico Bar Association during the general elections held on November 3.
The Report of the Electoral Observer Corps –which also includes recommendations– was sent to the State Elections Commission (EEC).
“The electoral observers of the College were specially trained to avoid ideological biases that would affect the impartiality of their observations. It is often assumed that the electoral observer ‘sees what he wants to see’, however, specific training and education are valuable elements in recording observations. Therefore, in general, a citizen electoral observation conducted by lawyers can be a valuable tool for democracy ”, indicated the president of the College, Daisy Calcaño López, in written statements.
Among the most relevant findings during the process, highlighted by Calcaño López, are:
· The units identify a school as easily accessible, but the truth is that the only thing they guarantee is that a person in a wheelchair can get there. Neither the ballot boxes nor the voting booths are easily accessible, in a way that allows a person with functional diversity to exercise their right equal to their fellow citizens. The ballot box is raised so that it is difficult for the voter in a wheelchair to enter the ballot or read the codes communicated by the machine.
· It should be noted that in some units there were no Easy Access schools, and people with functional diversity were served in regular schools. As for blind voters, in some schools it was observed that once identified they referred to a place where they vote by phone, with a system known as VOTE BY PHONE, which was sometimes not working.
· The long lines, usually in excess of an hour and the need for social distancing caused them to spread to areas not adequately ventilated, exposed to the sun or without facilities to sit if necessary. The necessary and indispensable use of masks made the situation more difficult for those with short breaths. Particularly affected were the elderly, pregnant women, the disabled and parents with minors. It was not observed that preferential turns in the lines were granted to people under these categories. Several cases of people requiring assistance from paramedics due to these circumstances were reported. However, in one municipality, a preferential turn was granted to vote for a candidate for mayor, causing the discomfort of the public present.
· In practically all the schools there was some kind of problem with the electronic counting machines.
· The multiple interventions of officials in the face of the problems faced with the machines interfered with the right to absolute secrecy of the vote.
· Machines arrived with registered votes.
· In some units the excluded list did not arrive.
· Voting time in all stages of the process of between five to six minutes on average.
· At 5:00 pm it was possible to observe the existence of long lines, sometimes made up of hundreds of people without voting. There are records of several schools where after 7:00 pm there were more dozens of voters who had already been in line for more than five hours waiting to cast their votes.
· There was evidence of electoral propaganda activities in or around the schools during the voting period. At 5:00 pm, an increase in partisan proselytizing activities spiked around electoral units while voting was still going on.
On the other hand, the recommendations of the report include:
· The electronic counting machine is a still new technology for the Puerto Rican voter. Its proper use requires an extensive and intense training campaign on how to vote. We suggest the permanent location of machines in public places where voters can make personal contact with it and practice the mechanics of casting the vote.
· The EEC should explore the adaptation of the system to the new technologies of electronic counting machines that can read ballots on regular paper.
· It is necessary to increase the number of units and polling stations and to provide more than one machine per school unit to avoid the bottleneck of voters in the halls and long lines in front of schools in unworthy conditions for voters.
· The design of the ballot papers must provide in the rectangles where the vote is marked, well delineated, larger and separated spaces. The letters should be larger so that they are easier to read. The legislative ballot should be redesigned in a way that makes it more understandable to the voter to know the exact number of alternatives available for each office without the need to consult the college inspectors.
· It is necessary to amend the Electoral Code of 2020 in order to restore the contentious political balance in the administrative structure of the EEC, among all the partisan forces that participate in the electoral process.
· A simple way to increase people’s confidence in the electoral system is to increase the percentage of transmission of results after the school closes. The level of capture and disclosure by the CEE was below 70% for much of the night of the event. This can be attributed in large part to the long lines of voters who had to be attended after the close of schools at 5:00 pm
Unfortunately, in the past electoral event, the low level of capture and disclosure of results had negative consequences in contests such as those of the mayors of San Juan, Culebra and Aguadilla, the seats of the Arecibo senatorial district, precinct 3 of San Juan and to the governorship itself, where the margins of the electoral results were quite narrow.
· The poor receipt of results became a factor that contributed to generating tensions in the electorate on the night of the event and among the political actors concerned. Not knowing in a timely manner preliminary electoral results led to new challenges about the reliability of the electoral system.
· The EEC should consider establishing transmission volume tests to determine network requirements and thus be able to provide results dissemination services on an ongoing basis. On the night of the event, there were interruptions in the flow of the results notification, due to the fact that the transmission collapsed due to lack of capacity.
· The electoral authorities must acquire truthful and complete information before addressing the public to explain the inadequacies in the transmission of results. The lack of technical rigor in the expression of the causes, ambiguous or incomplete answers to the press diminish the already battered image of the electoral system, since the fiasco of the last primaries.
“The Puerto Rico Bar Association will continue in its institutional aspect, being the guarantor in the defense of the civil, human and constitutional rights of all citizens. It is because of that the CAAPR has asked the State Elections Commission for authorization to participate as observers in the general vote ”, he expressed. Calcaño López.
The CAAPR team of electoral observers were: Calcaño López, Osvaldo Burgos Pérez, Manuel Quilichini García, Samuel Quiñones García, Edgardo Hernández Vélez, Miguel A. Rodríguez Robles, Fredeswin Pérez Caballero Y Jorge Tirado Ospina.