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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Primary voting goes off, with hitches of various sorts

Voting got underway late at Francisco Mateo School in Carolina on Sunday.

By The Star Staff

Under heavy rains, occasional power outages, and voting machine malfunctions, the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and New Progressive Party (NPP) held primaries for dozens of races on Sunday.

The electoral event helped define the candidacies for the governor, resident commissioner, the island Legislature and several municipalities.

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, the NPP president, was seeking a second term, running against Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón. Sen. William Villafañe Ramos competed against senior U.S. naval military officer Elmer Román for the resident commissioner position on the NPP side.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico Sen. Juan Zaragoza Gómez, a former treasury secretary, ran against Rep. Jesús Manuel Ortiz to be the main candidate for the PDP, which supports the island’s status quo as a U.S. commonwealth.

During visits to several public schools in the San Juan metropolitan area used as voting centers, the STAR noted a higher participation of NPP voters compared to PDP voters in the primaries. However, the consensus among participants was that the PDP was better organized overall than the NPP.

During the tour, voters showed frustration over the various situations, including delays in the process, closed schools and problems with the voting registry. Sixty-three-year old Juan Gabriel Laureano went to vote at Francisco Matias Lugo School, only to be told that he was supposed to go to the Jesús María Sanroma, where the voting machine did not work. He cast his ballot in favor of Pierluisi, which was deposited in a box. Chito Rivera also cast his ballot at the Jesús María Sanroma School and expressed frustration because it was not inserted in the voting machine but directly in a ballot.

“How do I know that my vote will be counted?” he asked.

At 8:30 a.m., PDP electoral officials began to receive voters, but the NPP officials could not start the primary until past 10 a.m. at Francisco Matías Lugo in Carolina because of machine malfunctions. Juan F. Rodríguez, a one-time NPP supporter, voted in the PDP primary for Zaragoza, stating that he grew fed up with the NPP. He said he requested help three times to fix his house after Hurricane Maria and officials kept losing his papers.

Carlos Acosta, an NPP supporter, cast a ballot for González Colón, arguing that he objected to Pierluisi for putting the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority under LUMA Energy and privatizing highways. Luz Dones Algarin, however, said she voted for Pierluisi but expressed disappointment because she had arrived early to vote and got out past 10 a.m.

Alfredo Cortes, a Carolina resident, said voters had to be careful to put an X inside the square and not go over the lines because then the voting machines failed to read the ballot.

At least two voting centers opened up without power service, while about 15 reported interruptions later in the day, according to the State Elections Commission.

“The fact that there is no electrical service or it is interrupted during the day does not affect the voting process,” said State Elections Commission (SEC) Alternate Chairwoman Jessika Padilla Rivera in an early morning press conference.

“Of the 1,433 voting centers, there are 15 that are out of service and we are giving them a priority,” LUMA Energy spokesperson Hugo Sorrentini said.

Pierluisi and his fiancee, Fabiola Ansótegui, arrived at the Abraham Lincoln School in Old San Juan to cast their vote in the primary elections.

The candidate for governor of the PDP and president of the party, Jesús Manuel Ortiz, voted in the dark, illuminated by the spotlights of the media cameras that followed him, after the power went out at Aurora Waldorf School in Cupey. There, the blackout was reported around 9:50 a.m. Ortiz also had to deposit his ballots directly into the ballot box, because the electronic counting machine was turned off.

“I hope that [power outages] do not affect anyone’s motivation to go to vote and the resources have to be provided for the vote to take place,” he said. “We Puerto Ricans value that democracy and in the PDP it is like that,” he said.

The electronic counting machine did not work either in the school where the other candidate for governor for the PDP, Zaragoza, exercised his right to vote, at the Center for Integral Development (Cedin) in San Juan. The electronic device went off while the senator entered his first ballot.

Zaragoza said he was not surprised by the situation.

Meanwhile, at the Jacinto López Martínez school, in Dorado, three of the electronic counting machines located in its six polling stations were not working. The race in Dorado was one of the ones most hotly contested between Dorado Mayor Carlos López and House Speaker Rafael Hernández Montañez.

The international observers who arrived in Puerto Rico to be present in the primaries also documented several of the setbacks that voters faced during a tour.

At the school located at the National Talent Academy in Bayamón, the average time to register each voter was extended by about 15 minutes, early in the day, due to delays with the recently released electronic electoral registry. Two of the electronic counting machines did not go into operation until after 9 a.m.

Meanwhile, at the Agustín Stahl School, also in Bayamón, NPP voters rebuked Padilla Rivera for their not appearing in the electoral registry, and PDP voters charged that the voting station for that community was not opened.

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