U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections. They cannot vote for senators or members of Congress aside from the Resident Commissioner.
But voting is an important tradition in Puerto Rico. The average turnout for elections is 68.05%. This is higher than the U.S. average of 53.63%. Puerto Rico is held up as an example of voter engagement. The territory encourages voting and makes it easy for people to vote.
Last Sunday, the primaries in Puerto Rico showed the contrary. Some polling places had smooth voting in spite of the coronavirus pandemic. But others saw an unprecedented situation: voters waited for hours, only to be turned away because there were no ballots.
Apparently, there were enough funds and plenty of ballots. But somehow the ballots intended for many of the polling places sat on trucks parked at the Election Commission headquarters until it was too late to open the polls they were intended for.
This is the first time that a massive electoral system failure happened in Puerto Rico, but we have seen other such failures earlier this year in states like Georgia. We may see more this year.
In theory, it could be a perfect way to manipulate a vote. No one is suggesting that it was intentional, but let’s imagine that it was for a moment. Failing to deliver any of the ballots would keep the vote from taking place. But failing to deliver some of the ballots discredited the entire vote. At the moment, it is not clear whether the votes already in will be counted or not. Will people return to vote again if they already voted? Will people who waited for hours return to their polling place to try again? Will the fear of COVID-19 keep people away, even though they didn’t have the opportunity to vote? Will people who didn’t vote on Sunday even though their polling place was open get another chance? There are enough questions that it will be hard to feel confident about the outcome.
There are many candidates involved: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, Sen. Eduardo Bhatia; and Carlos Delgado, mayor of Isabela, current Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced, and former Resident Commissioner (and briefly, governor-elect) Pedro Pierluisi. These are the gubernatorial candidates for the two major parties. Will all of them accept the results of the primary vote, however it turns out, or will some question the election?
The status votes
In 2017, 97% of the voters chose statehood from the viable status options on the ballot in the most recent status vote. Independence and “commonwealth” factions had cobbled together an alliance calling for a boycott of the vote.
Obviously, no one boycotts a vote they can win.
The boycott was intended to discredit the vote, pure and simple. That same year, the Mayor of Los Angeles was elected by 20% of the registered voters. No one questioned that vote, because elections in the United States are decided by the voters. Not the potential voters who might have had something in mind.
The point was not to claim that either “commonwealth” or independence had actually won the vote, but to discredit the vote that actually took place — the one with an overwhelming vote in favor of statehood.
In 2012, 61% chose statehood. Some voters left the question on their ballots blank, and the “commonwealth” party rushed to claim that all the blank votes should be counted as votes for “commonwealth.” This claim was made in spite of the fact that 54% had specifically voted against the territorial status option.
Again, it was not necessary to make a convincing case for “commonwealth” as the winner of the vote. The point was to discredit the vote.
With another status vote coming up in November, we already see actions intended to discredit the vote. There have been calls for boycotts, spurious legal objections, and claims that the response from the Department of Justice proves the U.S. won’t allow statehood. There is no evidence for these claims.
Puerto Rican voters
Your vote matters in November. Do not leave it open to question. Don’t think that someone else will do it.
Register. Remind your friends and family to register for the vote.
And then vote. We need every YES vote. We know that the majority wants statehood. We need to prove it beyond all doubt.