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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Citizen ombudsman calls for serious reexamination of electoral deficiencies

Citizen Ombudsman Edwin García Feliciano

By The Star Staff

The recently concluded primary electoral experience requires a reexamination of the severe deficiencies and setbacks that occurred in order to avoid electoral abstention and the breakdown of the democratic system that sustains it.

That assertion was made by Edwin García Feliciano, who as the ombudsman of Puerto Rico was displeased that the people perceive an apparent deterioration of the elements that must protect the vote and that the strength of the democratic institutions that have made the island proud in the past is breaking down.

“The threat that we all perceived yesterday against our electoral system demands that the governor, the Fiscal Oversight Board [sic], the legislative leaders, the mayors, and the presidents of the political parties, together with the chairwoman of the State Elections Commission, meet and establish the correct plan that guarantees our electoral exercises,” García Feliciano stated.

He pointed out that the Financial Oversight and Management Board cannot put up for public auction the credibility of the electoral system that strengthens the majority will of the people, by denying the vital resources to continue tempering it to modern challenges and needs.

García Feliciano was alarmed that insufficient allocations of money to support resources, personnel, technical advice, and IT and physical facilities had contributed to the scaffolding that supports them collapsing yesterday, in the middle of a bipartisan contest that only mobilized half a million of voters.

The citizen’s ombudsman said that resorting at this point to counting votes through a “tally,” or marks, is confirmation that this is serious and urgent.

“The lack of foresight to handle circumstances of the lack of electricity service is inconceivable,” he said.

The ombudsman said further that if close to two million voters participated in the elections with five parties competing, it would be catastrophic if neither the State Elections Commission (SEC) nor the political parties, which are instruments of the people, could effectively manage the event.

García Feliciano said it was scandalous that voters had to take shelter under tents, that schools were threatened by flooding, that there was confusion in schools serving as polling places, that the machines could not read the ballots and that the reading programming was astonishingly slow for five ballots.

He noted that even early, absentee and confined voting was threatened.

“All planning is based on resolving emergency situations, even improbable ones,” the ombudsman said. “But predictable circumstances that are fully public knowledge cannot be addressed in an improvised way and hastily.”

García Feliciano emphasized, and in this he applied his 16 years of experience as a mayor, that it is not the Department of Education but rather the municipal executives who know with certainty which schools may face difficulties, much more so if they are in flood zones.

“It seems that the experience of the tragedy that Hurricane Maria left us was forgotten,” he said. “And the elections are in the middle of the hurricane season, which this year anticipates 25 [named storms] and up to seven of higher category. And what are we thinking about then?”

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