It’s official: Voters, politicians do not trust SEC’s processes anymore
By Elsa Velázquez Santiago
Special to The Star
It was 8:30 a.m. and Nydia Mercado was standing in line at a polling station at a school in Carolina to cast her vote. But like thousands of voters around the island on Sunday, she could not participate and now has to wait until next Sunday.
“I arrived early, at 8:30 [a.m.]. It was impossible, the New Progressive Party [NPP] and Popular Democratic Party [PDP] ballots briefcases did not arrive,” Mercado said. “I returned home. Came back at 10:30. … Nothing.”
She also noticed a lot of the people in line were seniors and when she returned they were still at the school, despite the high temperatures and the health risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I asked a volunteer and she suggested that I come back at noon,” Mercado said. “I returned again at 1:30 p.m. and the same people were there. Then I saw a sign that said we could return at 4 p.m.”
She also said that like other people, she was angry.
When asked if she trusts the electoral process from now on, her answer was no.
“Oh my God. … This is a disaster,” she said. “It was the first time in the history of our elections that something like this has happened.”
“Are you scared it might happen again?” The Star asked.
“Yes, definitely,” she replied.
Others across Puerto Rico echoed Mercado’s statements. Thousands on social media called for a clean process. Some said they preferred that the process be canceled and started over from scratch; others preferred to resume the election another day -- as it appears will happen after the State Elections Commission (SEC) halted the primary on Sunday afternoon. All day long, zero positive comments were posted on Facebook and Twitter, for example. Also, some people were confused: “Should I cast my vote or stay home?”
Voters were not the only ones questioning the process and criticizing the management of the SEC.
During a press conference before the SEC’s decision to stop the primary, the presidents of the island’s two main parties, Thomas Rivera Schatz of the NPP and Anibal José Torres of the PDP, reacted to the scandal and said this will have an impact on the image of the organization and fewer voters are going to trust the process.
“Like anyone, I have to say that this hurts the process, hurts it severely,” Rivera Schatz said. “In terms of the spirit of participation and in terms of what the results could be, if in a municipality 4,000 people had voted for you under normal conditions and now 1,000 people vote for you, there is a different result.”
Likewise, Torres commented on the scandal’s impact.
“There is no doubt that everything that happened damages the name of the State Elections Commission, which had never experienced a situation like the one we are seeing. It certainly affects the name of the institution,” Torres said. “Not so for those who are in [the polling stations], ensuring that democracy is safeguarded. The effect it has on the voter is one of frustration, as the NPP president said. There are voters who have gone three times today to their polling stations to see if they are open, to see if they could vote.”