Island voters have many options available to ‘turn things around’ in 2020 elections
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
Did you know there are around 700 hopefuls and candidates aspiring for more than 160 seats in the Puerto Rico government in the 2020 elections? Did you know there are 888 additional seats for municipal legislators? Are you aware of the hopefuls and candidates that will appear on your ballots? Still unsure if you will exercise your right to vote?
In order to answer these questions and help voters be informed on Sunday to choose their preferred candidates for the general elections, and later, on Nov. 3, to elect more than 1,000 people who will represent Puerto Rico, non-profit organization Espacios Abiertos (EA) has redesigned its website QuienMeRepresentaPR.com to make the voter-education process easier, as voting is a human right recognized by the United Nations.
As the Star reported recently, QuienMeRepresentaPR.com, which began as a database where citizens could find contact information for elected officers, had a makeover with the mission of helping voters gain knowledge about who may be representing the island from January onward. The website uses geolocation technology, in which users enter their street address or zip code to know to which district they belong, who the hopefuls and candidates they can vote for are, how the ballots will look once they enter the voting booth, and how to search for candidates’ proposals on their social media platforms and/or websites. In order to help readers understand the platform, the Star did an in-depth search on the website.
As the Star logged into QuienMeRepresentaPR.com, a note popped up saying that the site has been adapted temporarily to present the candidates in Puerto Rico for positions at the municipal, commonwealth and federal levels. It also said that, according to their residence, users will have a chance to meet all the hopefuls who will appear on the ballots for both the primary and general elections.
“In January 2021, QMR will return to its original format with contact information from elected officials,” the website said.
Once the pop-up closed, the site recommended that the user write down the street address, zip code or submit current location. After submitting such information, a map of Puerto Rico zoomed in on the location and offered the following options: Senate, House, Government, Washington, D.C. and Mayoralty. If the location that appeared was not correct, the page let the user adjust the location manually.
At the moment netizens click on any option, they are able to navigate and look at the hopefuls that are entered in primary elections and the candidates that are up for the general elections. However, the Star observed that both hopefuls and candidates didn’t have pictures uploaded, although the Star had reported that EA filed a petition in San Juan Superior Court against the State Elections Commission (SEC) to compel it to comply with the Transparency and Expedited Procedure for Access to Public Information Law and provide information such as official photographs that the SEC will use for both hopefuls and candidates on the ballots.
Meanwhile, guests can browse on social media platforms, websites and, in some cases, e-mail addresses from both hopefuls and candidates to look at their proposals and public policies. However, some had broken links or insufficient information available on their platforms.
QuienMeRepresentaPR.com also has links to sites such as the Office of the Election Comptroller, the Office of Government Ethics and the Office of the Comptroller of Puerto Rico so internauts can search for legal documents. The website also provides other links to projects such as Para Votar, which educates citizens on the electoral process in Puerto Rico; Proyecto 85, which promotes female representation in the political field; Voto con Conciencia, which is an educational project of the Psychologists Association of Puerto Rico; and Tu Voto No Se Deja, an educational campaign from the Puerto Rico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union that is also developing a legislative history on current incumbents who are under electoral scrutiny.
EA executive director: Citizens must be well informed to make their vote ‘worth it’
In an interview with the Star, EA Executive Director Cecille Blondet noted that due to the information gap that the non-profit organization witnessed when it came to scrutinizing the people seeking elective office on the island, she reconsidered shifting the use of QuienMeRepresentaPR.com to a platform that would organize hopefuls and candidates into different categories, in alphabetical order, so citizens are able to go out and make their vote “worth it.”
“We decided to develop a tool that would facilitate that connection to people with elected officials,” Blondet said. “And, after the information gap that we witnessed, we noticed the great number of hopefuls and candidates in these elections, as we have the governor, the resident commissioner, the 78 mayors, 11 senators at-large, 11 representatives at-large, 16 district senators and 40 district representatives, and three minority spokespersons, which means that there are 161 seats to be filled with our votes.”
Blondet said EA considered it necessary to deliver the platform given the extensive number of hopefuls in both the New Progressive Party (NPP) and Popular Democratic Party (PDP) primary elections, adding that despite the great number of aspirants, there was little representation from women.
“If we calculate the women who are participating in the primary elections, for the NPP, which has 142 hopefuls, only 32 [22 percent] are women; meanwhile, for the PDP, which has 148 hopefuls, only 34 [23 percent] are women. So of the 290 hopefuls in this primary election, only 66 [23 percent] are women,” she said. “It’s a small number of female hopefuls when you see that 53 percent of our population is female-identifying and, sadly, female representation within the government, in electoral and executive efforts, does not even represent half of a half of that proportion.”
Meanwhile, Blondet said that as the primary elections come to an end on Sunday, the website will be updated to include information on the official candidates that citizens will be able to vote for on Nov. 3, and will add the candidates for the municipal legislatures, while there will be tutorial videos available to educate citizens on how to search for documents on official websites.
In addition, she said that even though voting participation has been declining from past years, people have a chance to “turn things around” as there are many options to choose from. What voters mainly need to do, she said, is inform themselves before exercising their right.
“There are more than 1,000 people that voters end up choosing every four years to be in positions that are meant to represent citizens; however, we citizens don’t feel, not the responsibility, but the possibility, to communicate directly with the elected officials that were chosen,” Blondet said. “That representation should go further than a political representation, an idea, a platform; that representation, whether you voted or not (or it was the candidate you voted for or not), that official from my district should represent the interests of the majority.”
At press time, EA was still waiting for the SEC to provide documents, such as official photographs, from hopefuls and candidates, that were requested in the aforementioned court filing. Today, EA has a court hearing to evaluate if the commission must comply with the petition.