Mayors Association sues electoral comptroller over ban of candidates’ social media platforms
By The Star Staff
The Mayors Association, which groups Popular Democratic Party mayors, sued the Office of the Electoral Comptroller (OEC) on Thursday in U.S. District Court to challenge a regulation that bans candidates from using social media to promote their candidacies or to support other candidates.
The restriction requires candidates to separate their web pages from their social media accounts.
“This internal memo, which is now set to become effective on August 17, 2020, broadens the definition of what is considered official electronic media to web/social media pages, the content of which is provided by a ‘principal officer,’ regardless of whether or not the page is maintained with public funds,” the document filed the Mayors Association says. “As defendant would have it, such pages may not -- under penalty of stiff fines -- refer to partisan political matters or otherwise promote the candidate’s achievements. In other words, defendant seeks to meddle in what candidates to elective public office place in their personal electronic media.”
The association says the electoral comptroller’s ruling violates free speech rights at a time when politicians are restricted from holding political rallies and other activities because of the global coronavirus pandemic.
The plaintiffs asked federal judge Gustavo Gelpí to issue temporary and permanent injunction orders banning the OEC from enforcing the new regulation.
Gelpí ordered the electoral comptroller to show cause on or before 5 p.m. today as to the reason why the court should not prohibit the regulation from entering into force.
The new regulation establishes that any main government official who aspires to an elective position in both political primaries and general elections, must separate their political and social media accounts related to their campaign.
The legal recourse, also filed by Villalba Mayor Luis Hernández Ortiz, alleges that the new OEC regulation constitutes an “unprecedented” excess use of its powers.
“The law is clear with regard to plaintiffs being entitled to express their political views and to advocate for their election/the defeat of their opponents; [that] is a right that extends to their electronic media pages,” the document reads. “Any restriction on the content of plaintiffs’ personal social media pages is deemed unconstitutional unless the government is able to show that there are compelling state interests and that the restriction is the narrowest possible.”
The electoral comptroller, meanwhile, said in a written statement that the internal memo was issued based on the provisions of Law 222-2011 to ensure compliance with the electoral ban and the constitutional provisions that prohibit the use of public funds for private purposes, including partisan political campaigning.
“We will be presenting to the court our proposals to protect the proper use of public funds,” the letter from the OEC reads. “These are the only statements that we will make on this matter.”