• The Star Staff

SEC official: ‘Nov. 3 General Elections are ready’

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

With only a few days left before every Puerto Rico citizen of voting age has their turn to cast their ballot, State Elections Commission (SEC) Associate Chairman Jessika Dory Padilla Rivera told the Star on Thursday that “the General Elections on Nov. 3 are ready.”

“Ballot containers are already prepared; all the ballots that are necessary to carry out the event are already in our vaults and inside the containers,” Padilla Rivera said.

The SEC official added that electoral officials from the Absentee and Early Voting Administrative Board (JAVAA by its Spanish acronym) are working hard at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in Hato Rey counting both absentee and early votes, with the results of those counts being sheltered inside counting machines, and will begin to submit them once island polling stations close at 5 p.m. on Election Day.

“We invite voters, electoral officials, mayors, SEC officials who are assigned to the Permanent Registration Board offices, those assigned to pick up ballot containers at polling sites, anyone who has knowledge or suspicion of any electoral crime to report it -- that’s our invitation,” Padilla Rivera said. “We might have control over some matters, but not over everything. Our call is to not let this happen because our purpose, since day one, has been to make the electoral process in Puerto Rico transparent, trustworthy and safe.”

As for extraordinary events during the electoral process -- such as a three-minute power outage at JAVAA headquarters, regarding which SEC Chairman Franciso Rosado Colomer told the digital news outlet Noticel that an electrical generator had been installed to prevent any repeat of that inconvenience -- Padilla Rivera said the SEC determined that “both presidential and commissioner affairs were to be situated permanently in the Coliseum to address any issue that occurs immediately.”

Meanwhile, as for a report by Ivette Sosa of Telemundo via Twitter that unidentified people leaked the voter registry with confidential information to people outside the SEC, Padilla Rivera said they “have no control as to what is released on social media.”

“That information could well be information that necessarily has to be corroborated; should it be true, we would initiate the investigations that it requires,” she said. “We have to ensure that our officials handle that information confidentially, and if there is any leak, any information that has been disclosed on social networks, it has to be corroborated and investigated as required by the authorities.”

SEC prepared to receive voters amid COVID-19 pandemic

Regarding its efforts to safeguard voters against COVID-19, the SEC released a 10-page protocol guide for the general elections and the plebiscite amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

The SEC states in the guide that “to enter the electoral unit, all voters will have to wear a face mask.” Likewise, all officials are required to wear face masks, face shields, gloves and a robe to protect themselves against the coronavirus.

If a voter screens for a body temperature at or above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius, they will be required to return to their vehicles as the SEC sub-board unit activates a protocol whereby an official arrives at the voter’s vehicle with the ballots inside a security folder, along with a lamp to verify the voter’s right index finger, ink, gloves, antibacterial gel and a marker. Once the voter fills out the ballot, the ballot is returned to the security folder and the folder is given back to the official.

“The sub-board will return to the voting station, instruct the station secretary to write on the list next to the voter’s name: VOTED (COVID-19),” the guide says. “They will proceed to introduce the ballots face down in the counting machine, pressing the vote button, no matter what message appears on the screen.”

According to the protocol guide, if a voter arrives with a medical certification or a positive COVID-19 test result, they will also be required to return to their vehicles and go through the aforementioned process.