|December 17, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
The Federal Court Pans the NPP Production
On Wednesday afternoon, writers and producers of the New Progressive Partys (NPP) legal drama over the admissibility of the pivazo votes in Novembers general election in Puerto Rico packed up their sets, props and actors after their most current and probably last moment in the spotlights.
Three "critics" (sitting federal judges) in Boston decided that the show was over for Pedro Rosselló in his attempt to force the Puerto Rico Elections Commission (CEE) to invalidate votos mixtos, popularly termed pivazos. These are ballots on which there appear three marks, calling into question the real intent of the voter. Most of these 7000 to 8000 votes were marked for the Independence Party (PIP) under its party logo and individually for the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) candidates for Governor and Resident Commissioner, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá and Roberto Pratts, respectively.
The play script had been read by many parties before it finally hit center stage at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston. At first, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court issued a quick decision that the pivazos were valid, arguing that it had always been a part of Puerto Rican tradition to consider the vote for the party as merely a partisan preference, while the marks for specific candidates represented the voters true intent.
Before the local high court could get the words out of its mouth, however, Rosselló and his fellow plaintiffs had filed his complaint in the federal court in San Juan, which was accepted by Federal Judge Daniel Dominguez. The testimony before his court went on for weeks before the appellate court for the First Circuit in Boston put the production onto its boards.
After only ninety minutes of testimony and two days of deliberation, the judges said that the play should have never left its "try-out" location in San Juan. Their forty-one page decision could have been stated in one sentence, "the Puerto Rican Courts are competent to interpret Puerto Rican election law and the federal courts will not interfere.
The PDP, which had lambasted federal court scrutiny of the pivazo issue, quickly praised the wisdom of the judges while the NPP gracefully bowed to the courts discretion. Puerto Rico Elections Commission President Aurelio Gracia said he felt vindicated by the Boston decision. He had been seen as vacillating during the six weeks during which the legal battle played out, one day calling for a recount of all votes and the next for review of election reporting only, and finally for a vote-by-vote review of every ballot.
Following the order of Judge Dominguez, Gracia had the pivazos set aside but did not add them to the developing tally for each candidate. After Boston spoke on Wednesday, the CEE began to add the votes to the accumulating totals. As of yesterday evening, with pivazos having been counted in some 44% percent of polling places, 4,198 were credited to gubernatorial candidates, 3,800 of which were added to Acevedo Vilás tally. At that time, with 1.2 million total votes counted of the approximate 2 million votes cast on November 2nd, the race for Governor was at a virtual tie, with only 300 votes separating the two candidates.
NPP strategists have not decided what legal moves, if any, will be taken to check what is looking more and more like a recount that will produce a narrow victory for the PDP and its candidate Aníbal Acevedo Vilá. If dramatic shifts in favor of Rosselló occur in the many thousands of absentee ballots not yet counted as well as others marked by imprisoned voters the NPP conceivably could sneak ahead and win by a handful of votes.
During the play-out of the recount drama, Herald readers have expressed themselves on a number of issues relating to the pivazos.
In one poll 60% of readers thought that the federal courts should retain jurisdiction over the three-vote ballots and, in a poll the previous week, 58% opined that the pivazos should be declared invalid. In the poll just concluded, 57% of readers thought that, because of its performance in the recent general election in which it polled less than 3%, the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) should no longer be permitted to exist as an official party, a status permitting them to receive roughly 11 million dollars in public funds.
Perhaps most ominous of all was the poll asking if a shared government would be good or bad for Puerto Rico, in light of the fact that NPP candidates won big majorities in the Puerto Rican legislature, municipalities and its candidate for Resident Commissioner, Luis Fortuño, is going to Washington to represent the island in the U.S. Congress. Some 57% of readers thought that the arrangement would be bad, 31% thought that it would be a good thing, while 11% were scratching their heads.
As things now stand, it is likely, for the first time in history, that the entire island will have the opportunity to find out how a shared government does or does not work..
This week, please let us know if you agree or disagree with the federal court decision to remand the pivazo issue back to the Puerto Rican courts.