• The Star Staff

Unopened ballot containers keep popping up at SEC

Chairman defends election’s ‘transparency’ while acknowledging ‘disorganization’

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

Ten … 40 … 100 ... 115 ... 120 … 134 ... 163 ... 174 … and 184 ballot containers (at press time). Will more appear later?

State Elections Commission (SEC) Chairman Francisco Rosado Colomer said Monday that this was the current number of unopened ballot containers that “appeared” inside the vaults at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in Hato Rey.

Rosado Colomer said that even though it remains unknown what is inside each ballot container, he said the contents belonged to the Early and Absentee Voting Administrative Board (JAVA by its Spanish acronym) and would be included in the general scrutiny that was postponed until today, along with around 13,000 added-by-hand votes, 3,000 unreturned mail-in votes, 2,500 absentee votes, 2,000 inmate added-by-hand votes, and an unidentified number of both added-by-hand votes from hospitals and regular votes.

“I don’t know how many votes there are. I don’t do the voting trend,” Rosado Colomer said. “I can say that there are many votes in there [to count].”

Meanwhile, Rosado Colomer defended the purity of the electoral event, insisting that the development will not taint the final results.

“One thing is transparency and another is disorganization. Transparent, we are; disorganized too,” the SEC chief said. “Within the disorganization that we have, we are trying to organize it with the same transparency. Because I go back and repeat, throughout the process, there were representatives of all the parties. About [people] saying there was negligence, I know that there was a lack of organization.”

He said further that JAVA needed “re-engineering, more resources, and more assistance” given that the SEC received up to 227,000 early voting requests, and he recognized the challenges that election officials have been facing throughout the process.

“All the votes will be counted. In the scrutiny, the last vote is counted. Although it is true that there is disorganization in some vaults, it is no less true that we all performed the function and were on hand to physically verify, without being told the ‘he said, she said’ that was going on,” Rosado Colomer said. “What has happened here has been the handling of an excessive volume of ballots that we did not expect, with … a short amount of time to adjust.”

He did not say if the disorganization was due to the current Electoral Code. Critics have said that the definition of early voting was too broad.

“At the end of the [electoral] event, we already counted 14 ballot containers that were unopened from the Trujillo Alto precincts 103 to 110. There were many ballots that were unfinished; there have been many numbers that, as a commission, have not pleased us,” Rosado Colomer said. “As we were moving JAVA out [of the coliseum to move in electoral operations], we have identified, unfortunately, disorganization with the management of the materials within the vaults.”

Meanwhile, the SEC chairman admitted that the ballot containers that were found were “badly located, badly organized,” which transformed the general scrutiny from “a minute block into vote counting.”

“How many votes are there? We do not know. There are containers that have three ballots and others that have 500; when we finish counting, which will be the first activity that the scrutiny director [attorney Ferdinand Ocasio] determined to work on first, then we will begin with the minute block,” he said. “This will be audited.”

Meanwhile, Citizens Victory Movement (CVM) Electoral Commissioner Olvin Valentín, after days of calling out anomalies during the scrutiny process that turned out to be true, said he filed a motion with the SEC ”to request to stop the scrutiny process until an investigation can be carried out to determine the origin and chain of custody of the ballot containers.”

His request was denied.

“I wanted to put on record my observation and raise the flag on that at the beginning of this scrutiny, knowing that there are doubts as to the origin of these ballot containers,” Valentín said.

Meanwhile, even though New Progressive Party (NPP) Electoral Commissioner Héctor Joaquín Sánchez called for everyone to step away from partisan behavior, he blamed the CVM for destabilizing the election with its complaints.

“The only party that opposed closing the event was the NPP. We wanted every last vote to be counted,” Sánchez said. “Meanwhile, the opposition, specifically the CVM, who did not oppose this action, is now demanding other things.”

As for the self-proclaimed candidates-elect, some of whom are arguing that a preliminary certification authorizes them to begin a transition process, Rosado Colomer said “there’s a bit of education that needs to be done” and that such certification “doesn’t claim winners.”

“A preliminary certification is not a final certification; candidates can claim [to be] elected candidates when they get a final certification from the SEC,” he said. “The former Electoral Code said that we had up to 72 hours to certify candidates so the comptroller could begin offering workshops and proceed to transition procedures. Article 10.8 speaks about preliminary results; the SEC has not certified any candidate as the winner.”

However, Valentín told the Star that the article cited by the SEC chairman is incorrect because it comes from the repealed Electoral Code, while in the new law, Article 10.8 states the terms for recalls.

“Using preliminary results [to claim victory] gives voters a false impression that there are winners, that there are closed contests, that every vote was counted, [when in fact] there are thousands of votes left to scrutinize; therefore, issuing preliminary results is an irresponsible move because it misinforms citizens,” Valentín said.

Earlier in the day, Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Electoral Commissioner Nicolás Gautier said on Radio Isla that “there are mechanisms to establish an audit and to determine if the ballot containers were there or someone put them there.”

“There is a need for some audits that we are going to start doing,” he said. “Audits based on the number of requests. Audits based on the information that the voter returns to us when he returns his ballot to us. Audits based on the home vote list when you go to the voter’s house to take the vote.”

Later, Gautier told the Star that after watching what transpires during the general scrutiny, which might last up to a month, he will sit down and think about what decisions he will take as an electoral commissioner, as the law provides options after the event concludes. When the Star asked why he signed preliminary certifications since they are being used to claim seats, after expressing uncertainty during the electoral event, the PDP electoral commissioner replied “I could sign 10 preliminary certifications, but that won’t certify anyone’s victory.”

“It’s completely inappropriate to say you’re a candidate-elect because every vote hasn’t been counted,” he said.

Rosado Colomer, meanwhile, said citizens have two options at the SEC’s official website, one to review the results from election night and another one for the general scrutiny. However, when the Star logged in to verify, at press time, the website elecciones2020.ceepur.org only had the election night results uploaded and did not have a second link available for the general scrutiny.

Meanwhile, as for electoral complaints, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico W. Stephen Muldrow said his office has passed along complaints from the Nov. 3 event to the FBI. Earlier, on Nov. 5, Muldrow told members of the press that the office was receiving complaints from the electoral event confidentially.

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