• The Star Staff

Dubious primary elections postponed until next Sunday due to ballot distribution delay

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

Amid the New Progressive Party (NPP) and Popular Democratic Party (PDP) electoral commissioners saying that the State Elections Commission (SEC) had a multimillion-dollar budget deficit for both the primary and general elections, which both would cost an estimated $22.5 million, the SEC spending $800,000 from a COVID-19 emergency fund, a marred early vote from the NPP on Aug. 2 and a shady inmate vote on Friday, SEC Chairman Juan Dávila Rivera still told The Star on Thursday that the agency was putting the final touches on Sunday’s local primaries. Everything was ready, he said.

It wasn’t.

The SEC determined on Sunday to take the electoral commissioners’ recommendations to postpone the primary elections until next Sunday, Aug. 16 due to polling stations experiencing backlogs of ballots not being delivered on time and that only polling stations that “opened ballot briefcases” would finish the electoral process.

During an interview with political analyst and journalist Jay Fonseca, Dávila Rivera said ballots were printed and given to the SEC Electoral Operations Center on Saturday afternoon; he also said packaging and distribution could have started then. However, he added that the lone printing company in charge of the ballots experienced a backlog and the political parties had to attend to other matters before packaging the ballots for polling stations.

“They [political parties] were dealing with other briefcases and other matters, and they started working with packaging a bit later than the time that the ballots arrived. Ballots arrive in briefcases and we have to open them in order to know what’s inside them and which precincts are there. It’s a logistics task that the Electoral Operations Center is in charge of,” Dávila Rivera said. “I failed, in the first place; regarding the packaging logistics at the political parties, we had to consider the backlog from the one printing company. It’s the only one we had.”

As for citizens who were able to vote on Sunday, the SEC chairman said those votes will be accounted for; however, the outcome won’t be released until next Sunday after the primary elections finish.

Meanwhile, as for hopefuls demanding his resignation, he said he wasn’t considering it.

“Me resigning would be too simple,” Dávila Rivera said. “Truly, we’re in the midst of a primary event. I assume my responsibility. We will consider all the reorganization that is necessary to finish this procedure.”

Truck drivers sidelined and left stranded by SEC

On Saturday, Telenoticias journalist Jeremy Ortiz Portalatín released an interview on Twitter in which a truck driver and others were stranded at Hiram Bithorn Stadium as the SEC still had no ballot briefcases ready for delivery. Some drivers decided to call it a day as they arrived as early as 5 a.m. and were not getting any orders.

“We were supposed to work with this yesterday [Friday], on the [island ]to cover all the travel; but we could not deliver to the island [outside San Juan] because the SEC did not have the correct documents available to load the trucks,” an unidentified truck driver said. “Today [Saturday], they appointed all truck drivers to move around the entire country [to deliver the ballots islandwide]. I arrived at 8 a.m, others were here since 5 a.m, and, at the moment, nothing has been done.”

However, on Sunday, the Star found truck drivers still stranded at the stadium waiting for orders from the SEC. The Star tried to get a response from the drivers given that voters were complaining on social media that they were told by electoral officials to come to their polling place later because ballots were still unavailable; however, a ballot delivery contractor who preferred not to identify himself said the delay was due to a lack of organization at the SEC.

“There’s not much to tell you here, what you see is what you get,” the contractor said. “My truck drivers have not moved yet because the SEC is still working on the briefcases. They are not ready.”

Meanwhile, a truck driver who preferred not to identify himself because he feared reprisal said he and his colleagues did not know what they were supposed to be doing because no one from the SEC had approached them since early in the morning.

“I got some information from my contractor and other drivers, although the information they had was not enough either,” he said. “We don’t know when we will finally get out of here and deliver the ballots.”

San Juan mayor: ‘When a government is corrupt, we have to get them out’

As the SEC determined to partially postpone primary elections due to the delays in ballot distribution and technical difficulties, PDP gubernatorial hopeful Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto told the press that the current government had used the primary process as “a drill for electoral looting” and that she has spoken with U.S. congresspeople to request poll watchers for the general elections on Nov. 3.

“Win or lose, the most important thing is not me, it is that the Puerto Rican people have a final glimmer of democracy as we already live in a colony and the Financial Oversight and Management Board runs us over. Earthquakes, a pandemic, how much will this country withstand?” Cruz said. “Democracy takes precedence over personal matters and any other conversation that can take place.”

The San Juan mayor said Sunday’s primary elections should be redone next week and every voter should get a fair chance to vote again. Meanwhile, she blamed the SEC’s failure on NPP gubernatorial hopeful and current governor, Wanda Vázquez Garced.

“Constitutionally, what you couldn’t do was disrespect people and not be prepared. Wanda can’t distribute unemployment aid, she wants to steal [the primary elections] from [NPP gubernatorial hopeful] Pedro [Pierluisi], and most importantly, she wants to steal from the Puerto Rican people,” Cruz said. “With this [electoral] card, with a horrible picture, I come to exercise my right to vote, but I can’t be satisfied by casting my vote [while] people from Coamo, Juncos, Comerío, Loíza, Caguas and Juana Díaz can’t cast their vote. Democracy is for everyone.”

Vázquez Garced, for her part, requested Dávila Rivera’s resignation.

“I do ask you to resign,” the governor said at a press conference.

At press time, the PDP and NPP presidents, Aníbal José Torres and Thomas Rivera Schatz, respectively, had also demanded the SEC chairman’s resignation. PDP gubernatorial hopeful Carlos Delgado Altieri and Pierluisi followed suit.