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Our Democratic System Is Under Siege

By Carlos Romero Barcelo

December 2, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Only with the support of most of the media can the lies and hypocrisy of the leaders of the Popular Democratic Party subsist. The twisting of the truth, the hypocritical pretense at being reasonable and eager to establish consensus, when their actions are aggressive, provocative, and insulting, can be considered reasonable and conciliatory only by extremely politically partial members of the press, who unfortunately are a majority.

Puerto Rico is going through a traumatic experience–an election was held a month ago, yet the result of the governor’s race is still undecided. Not only were the results unexpectedly close, but a new ingredient has been added, the interpretation of which will most probably determine who will be our governor for the next four years. The new ingredient is that thousands of ballots, estimated at between 5,000 and 10,000, have three votes (Xs), when only two candidates appear on them.

Where in the democratic world are three votes considered valid when only two (2) positions are up for election? Only in Macondo (Puerto Rico as viewed by the Popular Democratic Party) can such an idea be seriously considered. Anibal Acevedo Vila and his accomplices are determined to win these elections through any means, including by twisting or breaking the law as needed to achieve their purpose.

They have consistently changed the rules enacted by consensus of all parties involved, after the elections were held, to accommodate the system to favor Acevedo Vila. The first change in the rules after the elections was made when Pedro Rossello requested that the verification of the tally sheets be done simultaneously with a recount of all ballots, as stipulated in the rules unanimously approved by all the parties before the elections. The electoral law further provides that all rules approved unanimously by the members of the State Elections Commission may be amended or revoked only by unanimous consent.

All parties, including the president of the State Elections Commission, agreed the most efficient, effective, and reliable method was to do the verification of the tally sheets and the recount of all votes at the same time. However, Acevedo Vila, who has been hypocritically asking for a consensus government, has been acting as though he had been officially certified as the elected governor, when no official certification has been issued. To support his pretension to the inevitability of his election, he prevailed on the president of the State Elections Commission to violate the law and revoke the rule requiring the simultaneous recount.

Acevedo Vila and his accomplices are trying to act as though he has already been elected governor and any attempt to change that result undermines and violates the people’s will. His plan had been to take over La Fortaleza if he was ahead at the end of the verification of the tally sheets, without a recount of all votes. Now that even the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, whose majority is strongly partisan in favor of Acevedo Vila and the Popular Democratic Party, has recognized the recount of all votes and the verification of the tally sheets should be done simultaneously, his original plan has been thwarted and he is now trying to validate votes that are clearly void. Those involved in the recount know that without the null and void votes–that is, the three votes (Xs) on the state ballot where only two candidates are up for election–the winner would be Pedro Rossello.

The issue is very clear. If you have any doubt, ask yourself: If an independence advocate wanted to cast a vote that would count only for the registration of the Puerto Rican Independence Party but not for any of the two candidates under any of the parties’ insignias, how would he cast such a vote? The answer is there is no way to cast such a vote. A vote under an insignia must be for at least one candidate; if not, the vote is null and void. On a ballot for only two elective positions with an X next to both candidates in one column and an X under the insignia of a party in a different column, the votes cancel each other out. Therefore, the ballot is null and void.

Popular Democratic Party representatives and Acevedo Vila are saying these ballots have traditionally and historically been held valid. That isn’t true. I was a poll inspector during several elections. I was an Elections Board representative on a Precinct Election Board in 1964, and I represented the Statehood Movement (Estadistas Unidos) on the Plebiscite Election Board in 1967. I never saw and never was involved in validating any such ballot; and any ballot that had any word, symbol, phrase, or Xs in excess of the number of candidates on the ballot was held to be null and void. One of the reasons why we can’t validate any ballot with more votes than candidates is because such a vote could be a sign that the voter cast his vote as someone wanted him to.

Since the vote is secret, if a candidate wants to buy votes, how could he verify if the votes were cast as agreed? What if Acevedo Vila or one of his accomplices found people who could deliver several thousand votes for a specific amount of money? One way to verify if the votes were delivered would be to require the voters paid to vote for Acevedo Vila and Roberto Prats to also make an X under the Puerto Rican Independence Party symbol. The third X would be used to identify the purchased vote. A ballot with such a vote is as null and void as a ballot with one X for Acevedo Vila, one X for Prats, and the voter’s initials.

To validate three votes on a ballot to elect only two people also negates the constitutional principle of one man, one vote. To make three voting marks (Xs) when only two (2) people can be elected is against all principles and rules of equal participation and empowerment.

If the president of the State Elections Commission had performed his duty, if the Supreme Court weren’t so partial, and if the majority of the press weren’t so obviously partial to Acevedo Vila and the Popular Democratic Party, the matter of validating the three votes on a ballot for two candidates wouldn’t be a serious consideration.

However, the arena has been set to instigate confrontation, to exert pressure by threat of aggressive action while hypocritically accusing New Progressive Party advocates of stimulating confrontation, when it is Acevedo Vila and the Popular Democratic Party who are trying to steal the elections by trying to validate ballots that are null and void and by falsely accusing the New Progressive Party of doing precisely what they are doing.

Acevedo Vila asks for a consensus government, but he acts contrary to what he says. He forced the president of the State Elections Commission to violate the law by revoking the rules of the certification process after the elections. He talks about sharing government responsibilities, but he doesn’t talk about sharing cabinet appointments. He wants to share only what he doesn’t have.

In 1980, when the Popular Democratic Party won the House and the Senate and I was governor, they opposed me and undermined my administration every step of the way. They started by boycotting my swearing-in ceremony as governor on Jan. 2, 1981. That boycott set the stage for continuous obstruction of my duties as chief executive and confrontation with my administration from 1981 through 1984.

The Popular Democratic Party has continuously and historically abused its powers and persecuted the opposition. They have gotten away with and are still getting away with their hypocrisy, because the majority of the media support them and allow them to do it.

Once again, our democratic system would be strengthened if the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed the actions taken by the U.S. District Court and federal jurisdiction was exercised. For the sake of the people of Puerto Rico, for the sake of our electoral system, and for the sake of our democracy, let us hope it does.

Carlos Romero Barcelo is a two-term former governor of Puerto Rico (1977-84), a two-term former resident commissioner (1993-2000), and a two-term former mayor of San Juan (1969-78). He was president of the New Progressive Party for 11 years.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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