Top court to decide fate of mail-in ballots sent without copies of ID
By The Star Staff
The Puerto Rico Supreme Court gave the State Elections Commission (SEC) and the electoral commissioners until today to submit legal briefs in a dispute over the fate of mail-in ballots that did not have the required copies of the voters’ electoral identification or other forms of identification.
The top court resolution contained a dissident opinion written by Associate Justice Ángel Colón Pérez warning that the SEC cannot alter the procedures for election mail through “an agreement among the electoral commissioners.”
New Progressive Party (NPP) Electoral Commissioner Héctor Joaquín Sánchez Álvarez said the NPP sought the protection of the top court to stop the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) from trying to invalidate through a lower court challenge the ballots from individuals who cast their ballots by mail without including copies of their identifications.
The NPP had proposed as an alternative to the problem that the Early and Absentee Voting Administration Board notify voters who did not include a copy of their identification in the early voting by mail so that they can have the opportunity to do so. The PDP had argued the NPP proposal compromised the purity of the process.
In the absence of unanimity on the matter, the SEC issued a resolution amending the Procedures Manual for Early Voting by Mail to include a provision that allows voters to correct by mail any deficiency that prevents their vote from being counted. The PDP challenged that decision in court.
“The PDP is opposed to having a remedy that protects voters, this with a clear intention of restricting the rights to cast their votes and have them counted,” Sánchez Álvarez said. “We want to provide voters who decided to exercise their right to vote by mail with the opportunity to correct any defect that would prevent their vote from being counted in the general vote count. If the voter is not notified that his vote will not be counted due to a formal error, we would be restricting his right to vote and due process of law.”
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed many voters to send in their ballots by mail. U.S. Postal Service officials have said they have made election mail their number one priority.
SEC Chairman Francisco Rosado Colomer concluded that the identification requirement is not related to the validity of the vote itself, but rather to the verification that whoever exercises his or her right to vote by mail is a citizen who meets the requirements set forth in the Electoral Code to appear in the General Registry of Electors of Puerto Rico and to vote. Likewise, he determined that not providing voters who decided to exercise their right to vote early by mail a mechanism to correct a procedural deficiency, such as including the copy of a valid identification, deprives them of their fundamental right to due process of law.
“Voters have the right to have voting by mail that has the same guarantees and protections as the rest of the voters,” the NPP electoral commissioner said. “What the electoral commissioner of the PDP wants to do by trying to annul the SEC resolution is to deprive voters, who chose this mechanism as an alternative in the middle of the pandemic, of their right to vote. Our responsibility is to provide all the necessary protections to guarantee democracy and the right to vote.”
Colón Pérez said the law is clear in that the inclusion of the copy of the identification card with the ballot must be done in one single act and should not be done separately, as the SEC and the NPP have proposed.
“That unity of the act is needed to ensure the purity of the upcoming electoral process,” he said. “Our democracy is going through an uphill climb and apparently is in the hands of those who do not respect it.”