After Botched Primary Puerto Rico Plans Second Election

Puerto Rico voter participation has been on the decline since 1984, and its botched primary didn’t help matters. / Comisión Estatal de Elecciones de PR

Puerto Rico is scheduled to hold a primary election this Sunday – after botched elections last Sunday. Not enough paper ballots forced precincts to open late, close early or not open at all. The result: only about half the island’s precincts voted, according to news reports.

Politicians were foaming at the mouth. More than usual, that is. The New Progressive Party (NPP), the pro-statehood faction in power, engaged in a bit of drive-by shooting, figuratively speaking. Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, running for a second term, distanced herself, saying she was not a part of the current administration. NPP gubernatorial candidate Pedro Pierluisi took shots at current Gov. Wanda Vázquez, who entered office as next-in-line when Gov. Ricardo Roselló was banished last year. They all belong to the NPP! 

Pierluisi and others asked the Puerto Rico Supreme Court to intervene – shades of Bush v Gore? In a Solomonic decision, the court declared every vote would count, including those already cast and those to be cast on Sunday. No ballots would be opened until then, although some results were already circulation on social media.

Grievous damage was inflicted on voters through no fault of their own. It appears the NPP knew there wouldn’t be a sufficient number of ballots available and electoral reform legislation approved earlier this year didn’t hold up. In fact, it may have made matters worse.

Puerto Ricans rightfully decried the chaos. It fueled more discontent and disappointment with the island’s political system, following an ongoing economic recession, historic migration to the states especially to Florida, a catastrophic 2017 hurricane from which the island has yet to recover, and now the pandemic. Puerto Rico COVID-19 cases are rising fast. 

One of the few things Puerto Rico knew how to do well was conduct elections. Turnout was high, transparency was clear. Outside observers lauded the process.

“Throughout the late 20th century, turnout for Puerto Rico’s quadrennial elections was 50 percent higher than it was for presidential contests in the 50 states,” according to a 2012 article in Slate

But no more. Turnout hit only 56% in the 2016 election, down from 89% in 1984. In fact, electoral participation has fallen in each election since then, a troubling sign of growing disengagement among Puerto Rico voters. 

Is the botched Puerto Rico primary a sign of things to come in the island’s November election? Upcoming plebiscite? The nation’s presidential election?

In another era, I might have said “no” emphatically. In this era of potential electoral manipulation and threats from the White House, I have to say I certainly hope not, but I don’t know. 

˜˜María Padilla, Editor

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