Hector Luis Acevedo: New Electoral Code a ‘vile assault’

By John McPhaul

Héctor Luis Acevedo, a professor of electoral law for more than 30 years, on Tuesday described the signing of the Electoral Code by Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced as a “vile assault” on democracy and called on the people of Puerto Rico to fight with peaceful militancy for their right to a fair vote and to have it counted according to their will.

“What to do now? Report, protest and litigate. And each act in its time. Report in all relevant forums the abuses and risks of this legislation, go to the streets in an organized way to protest and bring lawsuits when they are ready,” Acevedo said in a written statement. “The signing of the Electoral Law by governor Wanda Vázquez on Saturday afternoon will be known as The Election Massacre. She hopes to change the subject this week and that the people forget the breach of her word. She was wrong to hand over her credibility in exchange for primary issues. She was wrong to think of silencing our people.”

He noted that, paraphrasing Ernesto Ramos Antonini and bridging the gap, “I come today to defend Wanda Vázquez the governor, against Wanda Vázquez the candidate.”

Acevedo said further that it is important to bear in mind some of the alleged attacks on this law against the free will of the elector. First: One of the electoral rights is to have guarantees against electoral fraud so that the legal vote does not lose its value with illegal votes. All political parties in 1982-1983 were very careful to protect the integrity of the electoral process. Now the absentee vote is made in an unrestricted manner and the requirement to obtain the electoral card issued by the State Elections Commission (SEC) in Puerto Rico is removed, inviting people who no longer have their domicile on the island to vote. In fact, articles 9-035 and 9-038 of the law prevent the applicant from being questioned, which shows the governor’s clear intention. Rather than requiring you to declare that you are not registered to vote in two jurisdictions, you are prevented from questioning it, and hard-to-get documents are required to challenge it. See the 5,551 cases of double-registered voters already detected and that the New Progressive Party is opposed to the SEC initiating procedures to clear its rolls in front of all opposition parties.

Second: Article 9.9 of the bill takes away the voter’s right to vote by marking the insignia of his party or the portrait of a candidate, canceling that expression if it does not appear in the small quadrant, although the voter’s intention is clear and manifest.

The Puerto Rico Supreme Court unanimously adjudicated the same situation by recognizing the voter’s intention above any technicality. See PSP. v CEE 110 DPR 400 (1980). That standard has been consistently upheld since then. This right is intended to be abolished by the Electoral Reform bill.

Third: According to the new Electoral Code, in its definition 55 and other articles, if an elector votes in the quadrant of one party and marks the face of a candidate from another party, this mark is deemed not to have been set and the vote contrary to intention is counted as an expression by the voter for the can- didate he rejected. In other words, it has a double effect against the will of the voter.

Fourth:The new Electoral Code bill aims to remove the voter’s right to vote for an insignia and for candidates from other parties. This right was validated by the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals of the first federal circuit in 2004, respecting the intention of the voter. Now, with this law, a voter voting for one party and the governor and resident commissioner of another have their vote voided. See Suárez Jiménez v. CEE 163 DPR 407 (2004).

The mixed vote that former Gov. Luis A Ferré requested in 1968 and that is respected today with the three ballots, would be null with this new law. Fifth: The law eliminates the voter’s right to be counted for their vote by direct nomination (“write in”) in accordance with their intention, requiring the full name of the selected candidate, contrary to the decision in the Santos v. PPD Case 109 DPR 798 (1980).

In other words, if a voter writes in that column, “Wanda, or Pierluisi, or Bhatia, or Yulín, or Charlie, Lúgaro, or Dr. Vázquez, or Eliezer or Vidot” that vote counts; with the new law, however, it is understood as not entered and the vote is counted in a way the voter did not want. This amendment was made behind the backs of the people, without discussion, in the process of eliminating internet voting. In other words, the governor eliminated a right acquired 40 years ago.

Sixth: Since 1984, the SEC has been enrolling students in high school to facilitate their right to vote. This population worldwide is the one with the lowest enrollments, and with this initiative, tens of thousands of young people have been made eligible. Their electoral card and their right to vote are activated when they reach the required years. The current order covers this right in Article 6-016 of the current law and in the new Electoral Code it is eliminated.

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