|November 12, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Countdown To The Recount: Will We Know by Christmas?
Ten days after the ballot boxes were sealed in Puerto Rico, the island still does not know who will be its next Governor and it may not find out until Christmas or later.
Observers are fuming that the number of votes actually cast for each of the three gubernatorial candidates are far from being validated and there is no quick end in sight. This week, Herald readers can express an opinion in the matter.
Within hours after the voting on November 2nd, the State Elections Commission (SEC) (Comisión Estatal de Elecciones) President, Aurelio Gracia, declared Popular Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Aníbal Acevedo Vilá as the "provisional" winner. He had polled 953,459 votes, or 48.38% of island-wide votes, while New Progressive Party (NPP) contender Pedro Rosselló was credited with 949,579 votes, or 48.18%. Since Puerto Rican election law requires a "recount" of votes if the winning margin of a candidate is less than 1/2 of 1% (.5%), and since Acevedos tally was only .2%, Mr. Gracia announced that the recount would promptly begin. Also revealed was the existence of some 30,000 votes that had not been counted, consisting of some 2,400 cast in hospitals, 6,000 in prisons and the rest having been called into question for one reason or another.
Most hearing Mr. Gracias announcement assumed that the recount would be a vote-by-vote review of each ballot cast, but this was not to be. Since its original announcement, the SEC has shifted its policy several times and -- nearly a week after the close of the election -- began a "general recount." That process surveys each of the islands 7,179 polling places scattered within its 110 precincts to verify that the results reported to the Elections Commission on Election Night accurately reflected the results at each polling place. Also included in this count is a review of each uncounted vote and if it is legitimate added to the overall count. After three days of work, the Commission has reviewed some 10% of the voting places and the race is still a virtual tie between Rosselló and Acevedo Vilá.
If, at the end of the "general recount," the margin of victory separating the two candidates is still less than .5%, then the vote-by-vote recount would begin.
The confusion over what vote count procedure to use relates to the SECs analysis of its own regulations as compared to Commonwealth law governing close elections, and ambiguity caused by differences among the two. SEC President Gracia stated that he would have preferred to do all of the counting at the same time in order to accelerate the final outcome, but felt constrained by his interpretation of what the operative law required.
The NPP disagrees and has taken the matter to federal court to secure an injunction against the SEC to stop the "general recount." The Party is also collecting signatures of voters who feel disadvantaged by the process, in hopes of beginning a class action suit to challenge the election process. Meanwhile, "provisional winner" Aníbal Acevedo Vilá is moving ahead with a full-blown transition process, while "provisional looser" Pedro Rosselló stews about the process and exudes confidence that after a full vote-by-vote count his victory will be established.
The on-going "general recount" process is giving little comfort to the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) and its candidate for Governor, Ruben Berríos. The PIP polled only 2.67% of votes and is doing little better in the Election Commissions process, ultimately putting into jeopardy the PIPs status to remain as an official party. To maintain official status, a party must poll at least 3% of the vote in a general election.
The delays and shifting procedures of the Commission has left Puerto Rico in political deadlock and produced an acrimonious and litigious climate on the island. If a vote-by vote recount is ultimately required, as is expected, the process could extend to the end of the year. What further delays would be caused by court judgments is anybodys guess. Most legal scholars agree that, if the recount process goes beyond January 2, 2005, the incumbent lame-duck, PDP Governor Sila Calderón, would remain in office until a winner was established. Other election winners, however, would be inaugurated, further adding to the confusion.
In such a case, Ms. Calderon would be governing with a political sea change having taken place around her from one day to the next. She would report to work on January 3rd with an NPP majority in both the Puerto Rico Senate and House of Representatives and an NPP Resident Commissioner in Washington. Also, a majority of island municipalities would be in the hands of her NPP political opposition. About all she would be able to do is rearrange the furniture at La Fortaleza.
What do you think of the SECs decision to move to a "general recount" before beginning a vote-by-vote recount?