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A Month Later, Puerto Rico Election Still Undecided
December 8, 2004
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) - The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico still does not know who its next governor will be more than a month after the general election.
In a mirror image of the Florida court battles and recounts that for five weeks held up results of the U.S. presidential election in 2000, the Nov. 2 election in Puerto Rico is mired in lawsuits and vote recounting.
Popular Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila, whose party favors the status quo of free association with the United States, had a 3,880-vote lead when partial election results were certified on Nov. 3.
But the New Progressive Party (NPP) and its candidate, former two-term Gov. Pedro Rossello, who favors statehood for the Caribbean territory's 4 million people, cried foul and said 7,000 ballots had not been properly counted.
The contested votes are so-called double-split ballots that have both a voter's mark under a party insignia and marks for governor and resident commissioner from a different party. The resident commissioner is Puerto Rico's nonvoting representative in the U.S. Congress, a position held by Vila for the last four years.
Both parties have since also reported irregularities at voting places, including one in the northern town of Guaynabo where more ballots were cast than the number of registered voters.
PDP officials accused NPP counterparts of forging initials on election documents.
In the northern town of Toa Alta, NPP officials accused PDP officials of altering straight ballots so they would appear as split ballots favoring PDP candidates.
``It's not normal -- it's fraud -- but there is no pattern of this,'' said Juan Dalmau, an electoral commissioner and member of the Puerto Rican Independence Party.
``These are serious irregularities and if it is proven that there is a pattern of these irregularities then we could be viewing a pattern of electoral fraud.''
The NPP, the statehood party, says the split ballots should not be counted. The PDP, which favors retaining Puerto Rico's status as a U.S. territory, says they should be counted.
Puerto Rico's State Election Committee ruled they were valid votes and should be counted, and the Puerto Rico Supreme Court ordered them counted.
The U.S. District Court judge in San Juan said those contested ballots must be separated from the recount, until that same court determines whether they are valid. The case now goes to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, where a three-judge panel will hear arguments Monday regarding whether the federal courts have jurisdiction in Puerto Rico's election.
With 11 percent of polling places recounted as of last week, 1,527 double-split ballots had been registered, the State Election Committee reported.
Of these, 1,439, or 94.2 percent, were for Acevedo Vila, and 44, or 2.9 percent, for the pro-statehood Rossello.
The rest were for other gubernatorial candidates, including independence advocates.