|November 19, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
The Recount: A Death of a Thousand Cuts
As the week closes, the Puerto Rican populace is still far from knowing who will be its next governor and, as events are playing out, the recount of votes to determine the winner is still weeks if not months away. There has yet to be a ballot-by-ballot recount of the 1,968,503 votes cast. After initial wrangling with officials of the three political parties, and several changes in his announced position, State Elections Commission (CEE) President, Aurelio Gracia, ultimately declared that a "general recount" of the islands 7,268 polling places (colegios) scattered within its 110 precincts should precede any review of each and every vote.
The recount was called automatically when Popular Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Aníbal Acevedo Vilás vote margin over New Progressive Party (NPP) candidate Pedro Rosselló was less than 0.5%. According to the CEE, if the "general recount" should increase either candidates winning margin by more than that percentage, then a vote-by-vote recount will not be held. This result, however, appears unlikely. The recount has been ongoing for two weeks and so far only about 30% of the colegios have been surveyed, mostly in the San Juan area. The PDP favors limiting the process to a "general recount," while the NPP wants every vote cast to be counted.
The convoluted recount process has occasioned a partisan political circus on the island. Acevedo Vilá, presuming himself to be the ultimate victor, has launched a full-scale transition process. Pedro Rosselló, at first scornful of his rivals public posturing, has now "gone public" with calls for an investigation of election fraud. Numerous lawsuits have been filed in Commonwealth and Federal courts. After several incidents of boisterous behavior at the CEE, political candidates have been barred from observing the recount process. Calls have gone forth to Washington for the election to be investigated by federal authorities. Accusations and political rhetoric have reached pre-election decibel levels.
This painful process is beginning to remind Puerto Ricans of the ancient Chinese torture in which the condemned victim is slowly put to death by means of 1000 small -- but cumulatively lethal -- knife cuts.
On Tuesday, New Progressive Party (NPP) candidate Pedro Rosselló broke his post election silence in a television discourse, accusing the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) of "fraud," suggesting that during the initial vote count its precinct workers improperly and illegally marked ballots intended to count for the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) candidate Rubén Berríos, in the column for PDP candidate Aníbal Acevedo Vilá. Also, the NPP has appealed to the federal court that the "general recount" and the vote-by-vote review should be done simultaneously, and the government transition led by Acevedo Vilá should be halted.
A major bone of contention to emerge since November 2nd is how "mixed vote" ballots are to be treated in the overall count. The official ballot used on November 2nd provided voters the choice to either mark their ballots for each candidate for each office regardless of party or, by marking a box under the logo of a given political party, automatically selecting all candidates from that party who appeared on the ballot. Once that "party box" is checked, the voter is finished and no other marks on the ballot should be made.
After checking the "party box," should the voter continue to make marks for candidates from other political parties, he/she has made a "double vote," which, in the opinion of the NPP has rendered the ballot technically invalid. The PDP argues that the additional marks represent the "real intention of the voter" and should count for the candidates favored by the additional marks.
Most "mixed votes" are assumed to be cast by Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) voters who, by marking the "party box," voted for PIP candidate Rubén Berríos for governor and then selected another candidate for the same office, presumably PDP candidate Aníbal Acevedo Vilá. If these "mixed votes" are permitted to be counted, an automatic conflict would occur between the PIP and PDP candidates. If they are judged to be invalid, it could be an advantage for NPP candidate Pedro Rosselló.
No one can know how many "mixed votes" have been cast until a "vote by vote" recount is undertaken, and there is no way of knowing how they were evaluated by vote counters at the colegio level. The "mixed votes" are considered to be of enormous importance for all three candidates. The PIP hopes to increase its vote count in order to exceed the 3% of total vote and maintain its status as an official party, the PDP is banking on a count that increases Acevedo Vilás margin over Rosselló to beyond 0.5% and the NPP wants to see the vote count increase for Rosselló and decrease for the PDP candidates, so as to eventually win the general election and take La Fortaleza.
PIP activists have filed suit locally, demanding that the "mixed votes" be counted, saying that they had cast ballots in that fashion, believing that their vote for the PDP candidate would be registered. NPP lawyers argue that they are technically illegal, since a "mixed vote" is, in effect, a double vote and awarding it to either is unfair to both. The position of the PDP is that precedence is on their side since "double votes" have been considered valid in the past and counted as votes for the candidate additionally marked.
Yesterday, the lawsuit filed by Rosselló and the NPP was heard by federal judge Daniel Dominguez who asked the plaintiffs to present evidence as to why the claims should be adjudicated by a federal court instead of in a local jurisdiction. That request would seem to indicate that the matter will go on for some days or weeks before Judge Dominguez. Still up in the air is whether the "mixed votes" should be counted at the discretion of the CEE, counted in favor of the straight party vote, counted in favor of the additional marks made on the ballot or that the "mixed votes" should be declared invalid. One press estimate puts the number of possible "mixed vote" ballots at 28,000.
How do you think that the "mixed vote" ballots should be treated?