THE CAPITOL – The Chamber’s Constitutional Law Commission, chaired by Representative José “Conny” Varela Fernández, discussed this Wednesday House Bill 4, which seeks to repeal Law 58-2020 that creates the new Electoral Code of Puerto Rico.
During the continuation of public hearings, the Commission also attended House Bill 114, in order to amend the Electoral Code to allow registered political parties, by request, to have representation in the State Elections Commission (CEE).
In addition, Resolutions 7 and 33 were discussed, which propose an investigation into the management of the Administrative Board of Absentee and Early Voting (JAVAA) during the past electoral elections and the irregularities that occurred in the primaries of August 9, 2020 , respectively.
“In this Commission we intend to prevent these things from occurring in 2024, or any previous electoral event, so that the people once again acquire the confidence they had in the State Elections Commission,” the legislator said in a written communication.
Both the Puerto Rico Bar Association and the Office of the Inspector General presented the reports they published after the elections, in which they found a series of deficiencies during the electoral process.
Among the main findings found in the Report of the Electoral Observer Corps of the Bar Association, deficiencies were mainly observed with the electronic counting machines.
The descriptive research mentions that on many occasions the electronic counting machines were obstructed and did not allow the ballots to be processed properly, in which case the college officials made the decision to manually deposit ballots in the ballot box under the machine.
He also points out that interaction problems were frequently observed between the voter and the machine at the time of depositing the ballots, as the voter education on how to vote on the four ballots was not attended to in advance.
In addition, on many occasions the return of the ballot by the machine, sometimes for no reason, triggered the request for help from partisan inspectors.
“The delay in this operation led to long waiting lines at the entrance to the polling stations and crowds inside the halls, with annoyances and dangers of contagion from COVID-19,” the report reads.
Regarding the recommendations, the Bar Association considers it necessary to amend the criminal measures within the Electoral Code of 2020, regarding electoral officials who commit negligence and omissions.
“In terms of the Electoral Code, there are criminal measures that must be reviewed to make their application easier in terms of offenses committed by officials,” said Lcdo. Samuel Quiñones, president of the Electoral Law Commission of the College.
In addition, it suggests amending the new Code in such a way that “the contentious political balance in the administrative structure of the EEC is restored among all the partisan forces that participate in the electoral process.”
For her part, the Inspector General of Puerto Rico, Ivelisse Torres Rivera, alluded in her presentation to the findings and recommendations contained in the Examination Report (OIG-E-002), an audit on the handling, sending and receipt of the ballots in the past elections.
The administrative evaluation was divided into the inventory of ballots acquired for the 2020 elections and evaluation of the internal controls of the Administrative Board of Absentee and Early Voting (JAVAA).
The report concluded that the documents and information collected revealed deficiencies in the EEC’s internal controls.
“However, except for the findings presented in this report, the inventory management of ballots for the 2020 general elections was carried out in accordance with the applicable laws, regulations, rules and procedures,” the resolution reads.
The Inspector highlighted that many of the deficiencies found in the report stem from the lack of training of electoral officials.
“The deficiencies of the internal controls that are reflected, often come from the lack of adequate training of staff,” said the official. “There are many areas within government entities in general, not only the State Elections Commission, that are lacking adequate training. Not only adequate training, but training in specific issues that are exercised, “said Torres Rivera.
Varela Fernández reported, on the other hand, that he asked all electoral commissioners for a report of irregularities observed during the electoral process and the counting of votes, after they appeared at the first public hearing held by the Commission on January 29. According to the representative, the only party that has not delivered the report, to date, is the New Progressive Party (PNP).
“Until today, which has been 69 days, I want to make it clear, for a record, that all the parties have submitted this report to me, except the New Progressive Party,” said the vice president of the Chamber.
The legislator commented that last month he held communication and then a meeting with Edwin Mundo, representative of Governor Pedro Pierluisi in the negotiations to amend the Electoral Code. According to Varela Fernández, the former electoral commissioner indicated that he would deliver the report, but it has not yet been sent.
“I want to have a clear record of the steps we have taken to (receive the report). They are important, because I want to assess what are the incidents that they (the electoral commissioners) observed during this (electoral) process and the recommendations that they can give us. All the parties have given us recommendations, ”the representative stressed.