PIP lawmakers propose consensus mechanism for Electoral Reform
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
With the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) delegation in the island House of Representatives filing substitute legislation for House Bill (HB) 4 that now seeks to amend the current Electoral Code, the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) legislative delegation demanded Wednesday that Rep. José “Conny” Varela keep his word and work for a consensus to draft a new Electoral Reform bill from scratch.
During a press conference held in the Senate Press Room, PIP House Spokesperson Rep. Denis Márquez Lebrón said that after the lower chamber on Tuesday rejected Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia’s appointments of Larry Seilhamer Rodríguez as secretary of State and Manuel Torres Nieves as comptroller, which both were conditioned on the governor agreeing to sign amendments to the Electoral Code originally penned by New Progressive Party (NPP) Sen. Thomas Rivera Schatz, “now there’s nothing that can stop this.”
“What I am telling you today is: let’s sit down once and for all to get all political parties to participate,” the PIP legislator said. “Let all advisers participate, let them show political maturity, let them leave this bill aside, let’s start from zero.”
To that end, Márquez Lebrón, along with the PIP spokesperson in the upper chamber, Sen. María de Lourdes Santiago Negrón, introduced House Resolution 38, legislation that would establish a special committee to develop an electoral code that enables representation from all political parties at the State Elections Commission (SEC).
“This is so as not to take the NPP reform and start patching it up without thinking about the changes of the 21st century,” Márquez Lebrón said, adding that the new reform should rethink early voting, at-home voting, voting by mail, electoral balance and the responsible use of technology.
Meanwhile, Santiago Negrón said reaching consensus on electoral reform was important given that an event in which the island once set the standard “cannot say the same today as the last general elections left a trail of questions unanswered.”
“We all sit down and we all talk about what can be salvaged,” the PIP senator said. “What does the Popular Party have to lose if it does things right? [Otherwise] there will be one big mess after another.”
“At a time when they have political power, the only thing they can think of is that the NPP did it wrong and we are going to do it better,” she added.
The PIP legislators also rejected outright HB 4, which last Friday got through the Electoral Affairs Committee in a 10-8 vote.
Márquez Lebrón called the legislation authored by House Speaker Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez “an electoral mess.”
On Jan. 17, Varela said that given the “serious irregularities” that have occurred during past elections, “our electoral system must be rethought, from the law itself to the very structure of the SEC.”
“It is time to carry out a serious exercise in which all parties sit down to find common ground and reach consensus in order to restore credibility to the electoral processes,” Varela said.
However, the STAR reported on May 11 that, regarding the PIP requesting the creation of a new electoral law, Varela said “they know we don’t have time for that, especially under the circumstances that we are living, where we have a shared government.”
Later on Wednesday, Varela announced that he has proposed an amendment to the substitute bill to establish that all political parties have equal participation in the electoral structures that require balance in the SEC.
“This proposal responds to the study and hard work that our Committee has done to reach consensus to safeguard the democratic rights of our citizens,” Varela said in a written statement.
The PDP legislator reiterated that his work has been distinguished by “the inclusion and participation of all parties in the discussion of this bill, seeking a piece of legislation that satisfies, as much as possible, the concerns of all the collectives.”
In the proposed amendment, the definition of “Electoral Balance” would be changed to clearly establish the equal participation of all political parties that maintained their electoral franchise after the 2020 elections.
In response to the concern about the cost implications for the SEC to guarantee such a level of participation, Varela said the substitute legislation contains several provisions that promote savings in other aspects, “such as the decrease in the number of permanent registration boards [from 110 to 40] and the reduction of the salaries of both the SEC president and vice presidents, as well as of the electoral commissioners and deputy commissioners.”