• The Star Staff

Fewer citizens have registered to vote this election cycle

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

Less than a month before primary elections, fewer people have registered to vote compared to the 2016 election year, State Elections Commission (SEC) Chairman Juan Ernesto Dávila Rivera told The Star on Sunday.

As islanders are getting close to exercising their right to vote on Aug. 9, Dávila Rivera said that, at the moment, 86,939 citizens of Puerto Rico have added their names to the electoral registry for the first time, while 58,090 reactivated their registrations after not participating in the past two general elections. He added that these numbers are low compared with the 2016 elections, when the agency received 151,923 new registrations and 119,811 reactivations.

“At the moment [Sunday], these are the numbers of people that will be able to participate in the primary elections,” Dávila Rivera said.

Asked by The Star how the agency has handled the voter registration procedure under the COVID-19 threat, the SEC chairman said that “come hell or high water” the agency has opened most of its doors and helped everyone onsite.

“This has really been an atypical process. Let’s say that this has not been the usual procedure that we have had,” Dávila Rivera said. “First, the Permanent Registration Boards [JIPs by their Spanish acronym] started opening while abiding by COVID-19 safety standards. I must say that we are the first government agency to open its offices in almost every municipality, including VIeques and Culebra, to meet registrants’ needs on-site. With this caveat, we have catered to all people who have come to our offices.”

The SEC chairman added that although the registration date for the primaries has closed, the boards are still working to help citizens register for the general election. When The Star asked why the boards were still handling new registrations and renewals past June 30, he noted that every registration or renewal after that cut-off date will be able to participate in the general elections. The final date to register will be Sept. 14.

“It’s customary for the JIP to work on Saturdays; it’s because, at this stage, they work on Saturdays to handle all registrations,” Dávila Rivera said. “Also, as we are getting closer to the elections, we cannot lose a sense of perspective as our agency has been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have work to catch up.”

Aponte: ‘We see hope for our party’ In spite of what the SEC chairman said, Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Electoral Commissioner Roberto Iván Aponte told The Star that the recent registrant and reactivation numbers are not the lowest since 2016, but they are the lowest since 2012 and 2008 elections, respectively.

According to a document from the SEC, in 2016, there were 178,032 new voters registered and 129,054 voter registry accounts reactivated; in 2012, there were 233,497 new registrations and 263,829 renewals; meanwhile, in 2008, there were 243,575 new voters and 264,121 renewals.

“Although these are some of the lowest numbers we have seen at the agency, we must take into consideration that a lot has changed in Puerto Rico,” Aponte said. “There have been a lot of emigration cases after Hurricane Maria, which leaves the island with fewer voters, a birth rate decrease, fear due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of action from the agency to register new voters at universities and schools. These are some factors that we must consider as these numbers are not as high as in previous election years.”

However, although there have been only 86,939 new registrations, Aponte noticed that around 12,000 of those are young voters who registered in June.

“I consider this interesting as our party started conducting social media campaigns last month and, to see this happen, we see hope for our party,” he said.

Acknowledging the low registry figures, meanwhile, the PIP electoral commissioner called on readers to be aware that there is still a chance to register to vote in the general elections until Sept. 14.

Aponte also emphasized that absentee voter requests are available by logging in to http://ceepur.org/, downloading the absentee vote application, printing and filling out the document and mailing it postmarked on or prior to Sept. 19.

Rivera Schatz: ‘What I want is for them to be NPP’ New Progressive Party (NPP) President Thomas Rivera Schatz, meanwhile, feels confident as 58,000 voters reactivated to participate in the party’s primary elections. Likewise, during a press conference held after their directorate meeting, when a member of the press asked if there was data available on the age groups of the new voters, Rivera Schatz replied that he just wants every voter to support the NPP.

“What I want is for them [voters] to be [supporters of the] NPP,” he said. “But the numbers, when we compare them with other years, it is a bit complicated because of the fiscal crisis, because the JIPs were closed; we have COVID-19, we got earthquakes and every other element that has been around -- in some way, they stop the electoral process.”

Regarding recent events, the Senate president said it is not fair to say if the numbers are better or worse. Nonetheless, he said the party is pleased with the recent data and that the NPP will take precautions in order to make voters feel safe during the elections.

“We are pleased with the numbers we have seen and we are hopeful that our primary [election] has a larger participation number than the Popular Democratic Party,” he said.

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