Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vazquez concedes primary loss as island resumes elections

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Puerto Rico resumed its primary elections without significant issues on Sunday, a week after electoral officials suspended the event when precincts across the island did not receive ballots or began the voting process late after a delay in the arrival of voting materials.

Close to 8 p.m., with 71% of precincts reporting, Gov. Wanda Vázquez, of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (NPP), conceded to primary opponent Pedro Pierluisi, who was leading with 58% of the vote. Pierluisi previously served as Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in Congress and was briefly sworn in as interim governor after the dramatic ousting of former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in 2019.

The island’s Supreme Court later ruled that the swearing in was unconstitutional.

With about 60% of precincts reporting for the pro-territorial-status Popular Democratic Party (PDP), Carlos ‘Charlie’ Delgado was leading with 63% of the votes over Puerto Rico Sen. Eduardo Bhatia and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who were trailing Delgado with 23% and 13% of the vote, respectively.

According to the Associated Press, over 60 of the island’s 110 electoral precincts opened to voters on Aug 16. Officials from the island’s main parties said that ballots had arrived on time at voting centers and reported no major delays. The majority of polling places closed at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

The day’s proceedings stood in stark contrast to the first round of primaries on Aug. 9, when most voters were unable to cast ballots after showing up at their assigned polling places. Héctor Luis Acevedo, an election expert and electoral law professor, told the Miami Herald over email that the second round of elections had gone “very well” and had been “an example of civic virtue.”

A volunteer scans a voter’s hands before he casts his ballot in Loíza, Puerto Rico, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. Thousands of Puerto Ricans on Sunday got a second chance to vote for the first time, a week after delayed and missing ballots marred the original primaries in a blow to the U.S. territory’s democracy.
A volunteer scans a voter’s hands before he casts his ballot in Loíza, Puerto Rico, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. Thousands of Puerto Ricans on Sunday got a second chance to vote for the first time, a week after delayed and missing ballots marred the original primaries in a blow to the U.S. territory’s democracy.

He added that what was left to deal with was the selection of a new president for the elections commission (CEE for its Spanish initials.) There have been widespread calls for the head of the electoral entity, Juan Ernesto Dávila, to resign. Public officials and private citizens on the island alike have faulted the CEE, among others, for the botched primaries.

Last week, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico ordered that votes cast on Aug. 9 were valid and that the primaries would resume Aug. 16 for voting centers that never opened or weren’t open for eight hours. The unprecedented and historic debacle sparked outrage on the island, which, according to Acevedo, has had a decades-long, well-respected electoral tradition.

The Supreme Court ruling created a blueprint for the primaries to proceed. However, many Puerto Ricans worried the Supreme Court did not accommodate the voters who had not cast ballots despite their assigned precincts finishing the electoral process last Sunday. The Miami Herald visited precincts across the metropolitan area with hours-long wait times, and voters in San Juan left polling places after experiencing long lines. And in some places, people never returned to their voting centers after they opened later than expected.

On Sunday, local daily El Nuevo Día reported that voters were allegedly showing up in a San Juan voting center after not being able to cast their ballots at their assigned voting center last week. And in the western city of Mayagüez, perplexed voters showed up at polling places that did not reopen for this primary round.

Voters wait to cast their ballots in Loíza, Puerto Rico, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. Thousands of Puerto Ricans on Sunday got a second chance to vote for the first time, a week after delayed and missing ballots marred the original primaries in a blow to the U.S. territory’s democracy.
Voters wait to cast their ballots in Loíza, Puerto Rico, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. Thousands of Puerto Ricans on Sunday got a second chance to vote for the first time, a week after delayed and missing ballots marred the original primaries in a blow to the U.S. territory’s democracy.

The PDP and the NPP both held primaries to choose candidates for governor. Candidates were also competing for seats in the Senate and House of Representatives and for municipal mayor. The results from the first portion of the primaries were also being released on Sunday after the Supreme Court in its ruling ordered they could not be published before the primaries resumed Aug. 16.

The five gubernatorial candidates, who spent the last week campaigning, called on their supporters to vote.

Cruz, two-term mayor of San Juan and PDP gubernatorial candidate, posted Sunday morning on Twitter a photograph of a map of all the municipalities that had not yet voted. In another tweet, she stated that the “eyes of the world are on PR” and that Puerto Ricans’ “hearts wanted to regain hope.” She also advised poll officers to “watch for a clean [voting] process.” Pierluisi posted campaign-tailored informational videos about which municipalities would have polling centers open on Sunday and urged voters to show up.

Voters leave a classroom with the required face masks after casting their ballots as volunteers look on in Loíza, Puerto Rico, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. Thousands of Puerto Ricans on Sunday got a second chance to vote for the first time, a week after delayed and missing ballots marred the original primaries in a blow to the U.S. territory’s democracy.
Voters leave a classroom with the required face masks after casting their ballots as volunteers look on in Loíza, Puerto Rico, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. Thousands of Puerto Ricans on Sunday got a second chance to vote for the first time, a week after delayed and missing ballots marred the original primaries in a blow to the U.S. territory’s democracy.

The AP contributed reporting to this story.

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