Puerto Ricans demand answers over botched, interrupted election

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Puerto Ricans demanded answers on Monday after botched primaries forced officials to postpone voting in centers without ballots, an unprecedented move dealing a blow to democracy in the United States .

The island’s electoral commission has remained silent as anger and embarrassment spread to Puerto Rico a day after hundreds of voters were refused detention centers which, for unknown reasons, received ballots several hours late or never received them at all.

This was the first time the primaries have been halted and has led many to worry that this has shattered Puerto Ricans’ confidence in their government and could affect the outcome of the upcoming November general election on an island with a rate of voter turnout of nearly 70%.

“This scar will never leave Puerto Rico,” said political analyst Domingo Emanuelli. “It was a hold-up of the country’s democracy.”

On Monday, Carlos Méndez, president of the island’s House of Representatives, demanded that the commission publish the results of nearly 60 out of 110 constituencies where the vote could take place on Sunday.

Housekeeper Wanda Vázquez and other officials from Puerto Rico’s two main parties also called for the resignation of Juan Ernesto Dávila, chairman of the electoral commission. He repeatedly declined to comment via a spokesperson, but told WAPA TV on Monday that he believed the ballots would be sent out on time and that election commission officials from the two main parties he had met a day before the primaries never raised the possibility of delaying. their. He also said he would not be responsible for resigning in the middle of an ongoing primary.

“After the main process is completed, I will analyze this,” he said.

Meanwhile, questions about why Puerto Rico was holding a primary if ballots weren’t available and how no one might know about the problem until it was too late remained unanswered. .

Officials from the pro-state New Progressive Party’s electoral commission and the mainstream People’s Democratic opposition party did not return calls or messages for comment.

The primary is one of the most closely watched races in the history of the island as it pits two candidates who were substitutes following last year’s political unrest. Vázquez faces Pedro Pierluisi, who represented Puerto Rico at Congress from 2009 to 2017.

Pierluisi briefly served as governor following Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s resignation in August 2019 following widespread street protests over a leaked rude conversation and government corruption. But Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court ruled that Vázquez, then justice secretary, was constitutionally next because there was no secretary of state.

Meanwhile, the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, which supports Puerto Rico’s current political status as U.S. territory, is holding a primary for the first time in its 82-year history. Three people are in the running to become governor – San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, known for her public meetings with President Donald Trump after the devastation of Hurricane Maria; Puerto Rican Senator Eduardo Bhatia; and Carlos Delgado, mayor of the northwestern coastal town of Isabela.

A federal supervisory board that oversees Puerto Rico’s finances has dismissed accusations that the electoral commission did not have enough funds, saying it approved all of its funding requests.

“The disruptions… are the result of (an) inefficient organization in an agency which just two weeks ago struggled to get ballots printed for an election that was originally scheduled to take place on the 7th. June, ”the board said in a statement. . “The State Election Commission has enough money and more than enough staff to perform the task at hand.”

While another primary is slated for Aug. 16, some expect lawsuits and legal loopholes to potentially disrupt those plans.

Edgardo Román, president of the Bar of Puerto Rico, said the situation was in a legally gray area. A new date must be set for those who did not have a chance to vote because the ballots never arrived, he said, but it is less clear what will happen to those who do not. returned to the centers to vote because they did not arrive. find out in time that the ballots have finally arrived.

“It was all pretty abrupt,” he says. “We had the worst electoral experience in Puerto Rican history.”

Vázquez has called on the State Election Commission (EEC) to postpone the primaries to Tuesday or Wednesday in a radio interview, Telemundo reported. At least one voter filed a complaint against the commission and election officials from the two main parties on Sunday evening through the American Civil Liberties Union. Pierluisi also filed a lawsuit against the commission and the two officials, rejecting his decision to hold another primary next Sunday.

The political upheaval has been demoralizing for some, but Gireliz Zambrana, a 31-year-old federal employee who did not have a chance to vote on Sunday, said he would try again on August 16 even if he was frustrated and said this that had happened. is irrational.

He stressed that Puerto Rico’s situation must change: the island is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria and a series of strong earthquakes amid a pandemic and economic recession in 13 years.

“You have to go out and vote,” he said. “The only way to solve all of this is to fire people.”

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