Island Supreme Court to decide fate of primaries
By The Star Staff
As the commonwealth Supreme Court gets ready to decide the fate of the botched political primaries, a ruling that had not been issued at press time, the State Elections Commission (SEC) said Tuesday it does not have money to continue the vote and that it can’t resume primaries before this weekend.
Later in the afternoon, the Financial Oversight and Management Board made public a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) earmarking $1.2 million for the process but it was not immediately known if the funds will be enough to cover the remainder of the primary.
The top court at press time had not decided on four challenges before it from different political candidates, including one from Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced, who wants to annul Sunday’s vote and hold it on another day. She also asked for an order stopping the illegal leaks of voting results, most of which show her running behind her New Progressive Party (NPP) opponent Pedro Pierluisi in her bid to continue as governor of Puerto Rico.
“We asked respectfully for the court to revoke an agreement of the electoral commissioners to alter the schedule of the August 9 primaries and to order a new round of votes in all voting places where the schedule was violated or was unable to take place,” Vázquez said through her lawyers.
Puerto Rico was forced to partially suspend Sunday’s primaries because most voting centers had not received ballots. The primaries for voting centers that had not received ballots by early afternoon were scheduled for this Sunday (Aug. 16) but that could change depending on the high court’s ruling. The SEC also suspended vote counts.
Pierluisi and Popular Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial hopeful Eduardo Bhatia objected to the decision and demanded that the SEC count the ballots cast during the primary. Isabela Mayor Carlos Delgado Altieri, who according to the leaked data was ahead in the polls for the PDP gubernatorial nod, wants the SEC to continue the primary within the next 72 hours, arguing that election laws call for primaries to be held as a single-day event.
The SEC was also sued by: Edward O’Neill, a candidate running in the NPP primary for mayor of Guaynabo; Manuel Colón, who is running for San Juan mayor under the NPP; Toa Baja Mayor Bernardo Márquez; and Carmen Damaris Quiñones, a private citizen who alleged her voting rights were violated.
SEC Chairman Juan E. Dávila Rivera in a written statement to the Supreme Court defended the decision to postpone the political primaries, arguing that it was made in conjunction with the electoral commissioners and the presidents of the political parties. who objected to having voters stand in line for hours until late in the evening to vote.
He blamed a shortage of funds and the coronavirus pandemic for the disastrous political primary.
Dávila said the SEC has neither the money nor the resources to continue the primary on another day. In April 2019, the SEC submitted a budget for fiscal year 2020, which ended June 30. In the budget, the agency requested $13.7 million for the primaries and $5.4 million for pre-election expenses. The SEC said it was not until March that the Oversight Board said it was approving only $5.4 million.
The SEC also had to close operations due to the coronavirus pandemic emergency and did not reopen until May, and since then it has been forced to shut down twice to disinfect offices. Because of the lack of funding for primaries that Dávila has mentioned publicly, he said suppliers are reluctant to work with the agency. He said the SEC was unable to complete the process of preparing briefcases to take them to voting places because of problems in its operational area.
He also said the SEC is not ready to hold the primary before this Sunday.
Bhatia asked the top court to order Dávila to certify when the political primaries could be held and to order Vázquez to certify when the OMB will deal with the request for additional funds.
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón said she objects to the governor’s petition to scrap last Sunday’s voting.
“We have to finish the process. Count the votes we already have,” the resident commissioner said. “If they don’t want to divulge the results until they are all in, that’s fine, but at this juncture, they should divulge them.”