COVID-19 fears likely cause of low voter turnout for Democratic primaries

By The Star Staff

The Democratic Party primaries at Gilberto Concepción de Gracia School in Carolina and other metro area schools ran smoothly on Sunday but were characterized by a low voter turnout attributed to fears caused by the coronavirus pandemic and lack of information.

“People are fearful of going out,” said Sandra Alvarez, the electoral college president for unit 108 at Gilberto Concepción de Gracia School.

While there were eight candidates on the Democratic primary ballot, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was expected to win as the other candidates, including independent Sen.

Bernie Sanders and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have all thrown their support behind Biden.

Pedro Pierluisi, a gubernatorial primary candidate for the New Progressive Party, and Senate Minority Leader Eduardo Bhatia, a gubernatorial primary candidate for the Popular Democratic Party, voted for Biden.

Puerto Rico’s Democratic Party primary was originally slated for March but was rescheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At polling station 108, about 40 voters cast their ballots, Alvarez estimated.

“I expected fewer people,” she said. Unlike previous elections, Sunday’s vote followed stringent protocols. For instance, voters did not have to put a finger in ink as officials were using a droplet. Individuals were given hand sanitizer to disinfect their hands and then allowed to vote. They had to write their vote on both sides of the ballot and place it in the voting machine. They also were required to wear masks to vote.

Gabriel Eterrich, the coordinator for the Program for the Defense and Protection of Handicapped Voters, told the STAR that he visited polling places in Carolina, Cataño, San Juan and Guaynabo to verify whether they were complying with the American Disabilities Act and the Help America Vote Act. He said there was a lack of adequate signage telling voters where to go and little voter education provided to the population.

At Gilberto Concepción de Gracia School on Sánchez Osorio Avenue, for instance, the voting room was located toward the back side of the school instead of near the entrance to facilitate access for the handicapped and the elderly.

Eterrich said some polling places, such as Nueva Urbana School in Guaynabo and the Senorial School in Cupey, were closed, presumably because of issues with COVID-19. He noted low voter turnouts at Ines María Mendoza School in San Juan, where by noon only four voters had cast ballots, and at Isaac Rosario School in Cataño, where only 28 voters had cast ballots by noon.

Eterrich noted that problems such as lack of signage and lack of accessibility “are all problems that can be fixed in time for the August primary.”

He also warned that because Metropolitan Bus Authority buses are no longer running on Sundays, officials have to find ways to help people reach polling stations to vote.

“July 15 [this Wednesday] is the last day to request advance voting and you can obtain transportation,” he said.

He praised, however, the professionalism of electoral officials. At Gilberto Concepción de Gracia School, for instance, there were three electoral officials and two observers.

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