Have concerns about the Nov. 3 elections? Here’s what you need to know
After chaotic primaries, doubts remain about the general elections and the Electoral Code signed back in June
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
With only eight days before the general elections, doubts and concerns still reign about the current Electoral Code, which was approved by the New Progressive Party legislative majority and signed on June 20 by Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced amid heavy opposition from minority parties.
Mayté Bayolo Alonso, a legislative attorney for the Puerto Rico National Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU-Puerto Rico), said Sunday that there have been “two main changes” that have raised concerns about the law authored by Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz. One of them has to do with mixed voting, which is similar to crossover voting, and of which the Electoral Code states that, with the gubernatorial ballot, the voter must make a mark under the party’s insignia, which represents a vote for the main candidate, and another one next to the preferred resident commissioner candidate.
“This has confused many citizens. Most of the questions that I have received involve mixed voting,” she said. “The ballots, especially the legislative ballot, have many options that overwhelm the common voter; I look at it and if I didn’t know exactly how to vote, I would be overwhelmed because there are so many candidates that, more than the many options you have to vote for, you must know there’s a limited quantity of people you could vote for or you damage your ballot.”
Bayolo Alonso said the other “big change” with the Electoral Code has to do with the definition of the term “intact vote,” which is when the voter marks only underneath a party’s insignia as this vote could determine which party will be in charge of the State Elections Commission’s (SEC) administrative affairs for the next four-year term.
“Constitutionally speaking, the majority party is the party that will manage the country as they acquired most of the citizens’ votes,” she said. “According to Law 58-2020, for the SEC, the majority party will be the party that acquires the most intact votes on the gubernatorial ballot, and that party will have control over the SEC’s administrative affairs, which includes official appointments and budget allocation. There will only be a balance [among parties] in electoral affairs; that’s a big change.”
The ACLU-Puerto Rico attorney told the Star that, in her opinion, that new rule could become an issue because there might be only one party in charge of the island’s electoral budget.
“The SEC’s purpose is that every registered party has representation when decisions are made; the chairman is the one who agrees or disagrees with their final decision. We will have a situation where there won’t be interference from minority parties -- which might not have lost the elections, but didn’t get the most intact votes from the gubernatorial ballot -- as budget decisions are being made,” Bayolo Alonso said. “I want to [hope for] the best and from good faith, and say that perhaps it would create a situation in which there is, to some extent, a system of checks and balances in the electoral field; however, history cannot be ignored when we have seen divided administrations.”
For these reasons, Bayolo Alonso, along with ACLU-Puerto Rico’s non-governmental organization Tu Voto No Se Deja, which is focused on educating citizens on their voting rights and providing accessible information on the candidates’ platforms, has released a guide to educate voters on how to fill out their ballots correctly in this year’s general elections. She added that apart from publishing the pamphlet to raise awareness on how voters can make their vote count and which methods are valid according to Law 58-2020, they have handed out more than 5,000 copies to citizens across the island because “there are people who don’t have access to social media, who reject being on social media and [others who] have no internet access.”
“In order to reach out to this population, which we have done by teaming up with community leaders and allies, we decided to print out these pamphlets that are available in PDF format so digital [users] share them with their WhatsApp group chats, with their family members and friends,” she said. “We’re not affiliated with any political party, but due to the changes in the Electoral Code, we want elder and disadvantaged citizens of our country to know how to cast their vote and that there are more options other than the intact vote.”
Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Electoral Commissioner Roberto Iván Aponte told the Star meanwhile that the “run-over” approval of the Electoral Code has led people to inform themselves about the changes “as it was approved by only one party without considering recommendations from the opposition, which helps benefit the current government.”
“One of the challenges that we have faced has been with the change of the definition of ‘early voting,’ as the concept has been widely opened and it limits any intent to oversight,” Aponte said. “The enormous number of people who have requested early voting makes it harder to inspect every step, above all in the early voting at home and early voting by mail processes.”
As for early voting at home, the PIP electoral commissioner said the SEC has never seen so many requests and “that it requires visiting the homes of 105,000 voters in such a short amount of time” to validate their votes. Meanwhile, he said that early voting by mail “needs a more serious evaluation of how to oversee and ensure the voters’ authentication.”
Aponte said further that the reduction of Permanent Registration Board offices in each municipality represents a challenge for voters who live in rural areas because “they won’t have an office close to them to reactivate, register or update their information in the electoral roll.”
“There’s also an imbalance in the SEC’s structure and the lack of representation from minority parties on many terms, which creates great suspicion in the electorate,” he said. “We must return to consensus among all parties. Nowadays, Puerto Ricans demand more representativeness from all sectors, and it cannot be that a single party establishes the rules; there must be consensus and transparency, something that was not [considered] in the approval of this new electoral code.”