• The San Juan Daily Star

Governor is open to amending, if not replacing, electoral code

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

With the Legislature seeking to draft a new electoral code, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia stated Tuesday that he would “have the greatest openness and flexibility” to any amendments to Act 57 of 2020.

“There are two chambers, the House and the Senate; ideally there should be communication and coordination with both houses,” Pierluisi said in response to questions from the STAR.

The governor made his statements a day after the deputy speaker of the lower chamber, Rep. José “Conny” Varela, told the newspaper that there was urgency in drafting a new electoral code as articles from the Electoral Reform signed in June 2020, such as the reduction in permanent registration boards, were coming into effect.

The governor, meanwhile, said his only request on the issue has been “that the option to vote by mail remains.”

“What I have said, and I repeat it now, is that I do think absentee voting is here to stay,” he said. “That’s been seen in the United States, it’s a vote that we should keep.”

“You can make whatever changes you make, but the voter should be allowed to vote,” Pierluisi added.

Asked if it is preferable to establish amendments than to draft a new electoral reform from scratch, Pierluisi said the impression he has had after talking with legislative leaders, such as Senate President José Luis Dalmau, has been to only file amendments to the law signed by former Gov. Wanda Vázquez four months before the 2020 elections.

However, Varela confirmed to the STAR on Monday that, so far, the Legislature has sought to rewrite the code, which he called “nefarious.”

“It must be that some might think otherwise, but what I’m getting is that the consensus is going toward the amendment of the code, not toward its replacement,” he said.

Those statements came around the same time that the Pierluisi administration submitted the appointments of Ponce Superior Judge Jorge Rivera Rueda to chair the State Elections Commission (SEC) and Carolina Superior Court Judge Edgar Figueroa Vázquez as the alternate chairman of the entity.

According to independent outlet Bonita Radio, Rivera Rueda was appointed as a Superior Court judge in October 2020 by then-governor Vázquez Garced.

Meanwhile, Metro Puerto Rico reported that Figueroa Vázquez was appointed in June 2019 by former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Neváres.

Both appointments must be considered by the Legislature within 15 days as provided by the Electoral Code. However, Varela told the STAR on Monday that the process began last Friday.

The Citizens’ Victory Movement (CVM by its Spanish initials), meanwhile, through a press release, announced that its legislative delegation opposes Rivera Rueda’s appointment as SEC chairman. Rivera Rueda was one of the candidates for the chairmanship that the New Progressive Party submitted last month for consideration by the other parties’ electoral commissioners.

However, unanimity was not reached on the appointments for SEC chairman and alternate chairman.

“As confirmed during the evaluation process, the two-time SEC chairman-designate violated the Electoral Code during the 2020 elections by voting in a municipality other than the one in which he resides,” said CVM Electoral Commissioner Lilliam Aponte Dones in a written statement.

CVM Rep. Mariana Nogales Molinelli said she wants to “ensure these appointments are subject to a rigorous process of public hearings and that the credentials and track records of the designates are evaluated in a transparent manner.”

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