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'Triple X' Ballot Should Go The Way Of `Butterfly Ballot'… Puerto Rico's Florida…An Attempt To Steal The Election… Votes For Puerto Rico… No Bush v. Gore Redux, Please

Puerto Rico's Election -- Shades Of Florida 2000

Our Opinion: 'Triple X' Ballot Should Go The Way Of `Butterfly Ballot'


December 16, 2004
Copyright © 2003 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

With just days to go before the January 2 inauguration of a new governor in Puerto Rico, the outcome of the November election remains undecided. The dispute involves confusing ballots, questions about which votes should be counted, and by whom.

To anyone who lived through the political drama of Florida 2000, this feels like djá vu. If our state's sad experience is any guide, the outcome will fail to satisfy all parties. That's why it's important to keep in mind the lessons of our own electoral debacle and avoid obvious pitfalls.

Court ruling

The heart of the issue involves something similar to our own ''overvotes'' -- ballots that appear to express more than one preference. On the so-called ''triple x'' ballots, voters marked an ''x'' for the tiny Independence Party, but they also put marks next to the names of the Popular Democratic Party's gubernatorial candidate, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, and Roberto Prats, the party's candidate for delegate to the U.S. Congress.

Former Gov. Pedro Rosselló of the New Progressive Party, running for reelection, wants these approximately 28,000 ballots thrown out, which would swing the outcome in his favor. But PDP leaders argue that Puerto Rican law allows voters to express a party preference (thus maintaining the party's electoral franchise) and also express a preference for the candidate of another party.

To make matters worse, Puerto Rico's Supreme Court has ruled that the ballots should count, but Federal Judge Daniel Domínguez ordered them counted but not added to the final recount tally until he rules on their validity.

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston declared that Puerto Rico's Supreme Court has jurisdiction. We applaud this decision and hope it will clear the way for a final determination of the governor's race, even though it is almost certain to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Florida 2000 was decided.

The ''triple x'' ballot is Puerto Rico's version of Palm Beach County's notorious ''butterfly ballot'' -- perhaps more confusing, if that's possible. Thus, we dare to offer a suggestion: Puerto Rico should rid itself of the ''triple x'' preference just as Florida got rid of the ''butterfly ballot'' and avoid this headache in the future.

Florida's experience

If the jurisdictional issue goes before the U.S. Supreme Court, it may want to consider the territory's Commonwealth status, which suggests that Puerto Rico's local courts may have a better claim than their counterparts in any of the 50 states in a similar electoral dispute.

As to the validity of the questioned ballots, the experience of Florida 2000 suggests that it is better to err on the side of inclusivity -- let the ballots count -- than to throw out questioned ballots that have some claim of merit. It won't satisfy everyone, but it may reduce the residue of political bitterness that lingers long after such contested elections are decided.

Puerto Rico's Florida

December 3, 2004
Copyright © 2003 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Wall Street Journal

All eyes may be on the stolen election in Ukraine, but there's a potentially fraudulent one here at home that bears watching too. We refer to Puerto Rico, where the vote for governor is so close that it remains undecided one month after November 2.

There's a complex legal dispute in train, setting the pro-statehood party candidate vs. the candidate from the pro-commonwealth party and revolving around the status of up to 28,000 disputed ballots. The case has already reached the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, and before it's over the U.S. Supreme Court may have to weigh in. Meanwhile, a recount is under way.

If all this sounds a lot like Bush v. Gore and the 2000 Florida recount, that's because it is. And it's not just the palm trees in the background. The principle at stake is the same: Election laws ought to mean something; you can't change the rules after votes have been cast.

Puerto Rico's hanging chad is something called the "mixed ballot." The vast majority of the territory's two million voters select a slate of candidates by checking off the name of the party they prefer. If, however, they wish to vote for a candidate from another party for a particular office, they can "split" their vote by also checking off the name of that candidate. Just 1.5% of the electorate cast mixed ballots in 2000; 1.7% did so in 1996.

This year a new sort of mixed ballot turned up that raises several suspicions. On the ballot for governor and Puerto Rico's non-voting delegate in Washington, some voters purportedly checked three boxes: one for the Independence Party (which has a tiny following) and two for the candidates from the pro-commonwealth party. This makes no sense, as it effectively cancels out the voters' party vote and makes it impossible to determine their true intent.

The statehood-party candidate, Pedro Rossello, wants these mixed ballots declared invalid, which would likely hand him the margin of victory. The commonwealth-party candidate, Anibal Acevedo Vila, wants them counted, which would put him over the top.

There's another problem with the triple-X ballots. Puerto Rico's voters mark their ballots with pencils they are handed as they enter the voting booth. But some of the mixed ballots contain both pencilled X's next to the Independence Party and X's marked in ink next to the names of the commonwealth party candidates, suggesting that the inked X's were fraudulently added later. Election workers report that the triple-X ballots didn't begin to show up until late on election night, as it became clear that Mr. Rossello was winning. Mr. Rossello was ahead in the exit polls and his party swept the legislative and municipal elections and also won the race for representative in Washington.

There is another parallel with Florida 2000 -- an activist state Supreme Court, which first grabbed the case from a lower court and then ordered that the mixed ballots be counted. The rule, however, is that federal courts decide who has jurisdiction in these cases, and a federal judge has ordered that the triple-X ballots be set aside until he can determine whether they are valid.

We don't know who's the winner here -- preliminary results show Mr. Acevedo Vilar ahead by a hair -- but it seems obvious that the triple-X ballots deserve to be discarded as confusing and possibly fraudulent. Then do a recount and declare a victor -- before January 2, the date the current governor's term ends. If not, there's a nasty political crisis in the offing that could be worse than Florida.

An Attempt To Steal The Puerto Rican Election

December 13, 2004
Copyright © 2003 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Wall Street Journal

Your Dec. 3 editorial "Puerto Rico's Florida" was highly offensive to me and to Puerto Rico. You seem to believe we're incapable of electing our own political leaders and that we need the assistance of a cadre of high-priced legal consultants and political operatives; that we would be better served by having the federal courts in Boston decide our future; and that the political system in Puerto Rico is flawed and corrupt. All of this is untrue.

I was elected four years ago on a platform of clean government and community empowerment that was an outcry from the people of Puerto Rico against the very same New Progressive Party (NPP) candidate, Pedro Rossello, who now tries to discredit our electoral system. After his successor was unable to be fairly elected against me at that time, he hurriedly left the island immediately following my inaugural celebration.

Now he has returned, this time with an army of lawyers, in hope of stealing the governor's office in Puerto Rico by using concocted legal challenges, based on claims concerning a "new sort" of mixed ballot. This type of vote was used in the 1996 and 2000 elections and was supported by all parties on the island, including the NPP. In fact, mixed votes in general have been an integral part of Puerto Rico elections since 1906.

No one in Mr. Rossello's legal team challenged votes from the mixed ballot in 1996 or 2000. Neither did they challenge those votes on election night in 2004 when officials from all three parties counted the ballots, or during the first four days of the general canvassing process in 2004. It was only after it was clear that the general canvass and the recount were not going to provide the losing candidate with enough votes to overcome his 3,880 vote deficit that his party came up with a novel approach to invalidate these deciding votes.

The claim of fraud is unfounded: While some ballots have been identified with markings in both pencil and pen, they number only about 50, constituting about 0.0001% of the total vote. Hardly an example of massive fraud.

Your editorial compounded this important oversight by reporting that the triple-X ballots appeared late on election night, only after exit polls indicated that the NPP's Pedro Rossello led Commonwealth Party candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila. The truth is that in Puerto Rico ballot boxes are opened only after voting concludes, not incrementally; also, there are no exit polls taken in Puerto Rico.

Furthermore, calling for the discarding of mixed ballots ignores the basic elements of Puerto Rico's election law. The law is quite clear that the ballot with the candidate for governor and resident commissioner serves three purposes: (1) to vote for governor; (2) to vote for resident commissioner; and (3) to express a party preference for the purpose of maintaining a party's electoral franchise, which entails specific and substantial benefits for each political organization.

Who should your readers believe -- the Popular Democratic Party that has adhered to the election laws developed and agreed upon by all three parties and has stamped out corruption left over from Mr. Rossello's last tenure? Or a party whose former governor gave us some 40 cabinet officials, high-ranking officers and party operatives who are either currently in prison, have pleaded guilty or have been indicted and are awaiting trial for misappropriation of public funds?

Sila M. Calderon
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico


Votes For Puerto Rico

December 13, 2004
Copyright © 2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

The Boston Globe

THE US COURT of Appeals in Boston has no need to get involved in last month's election for governor of Puerto Rico. After it hears arguments in the case today, it ought to allow the electoral processes of Puerto Rico to decide who will be inaugurated on Jan. 2.

The US District Court in Puerto Rico has decided to intervene in the disputed gubernatorial election, acting at the behest of former governor Pedro Rossello, candidate of the pro-statehood party. The Puerto Rican Elections Commission has determined that he lost by a thin margin to Anibal Acevedo Vila, candidate of the party that favors retaining commonwealth status for the island.

At issue are some 28,000 ballots where voters indicated support for Acevedo and his candidate for resident commissioner, but also marked a party-line slate for a different party.

Electoral regulations are murky about how these "split ballots" should be treated, but it appears that similar ballots were counted without question in the past. Our view is that, when in doubt, election officials should attempt to determine a voter's intent, and, by that standard, these ballots should be valid, unless Rossello can prove fraud was involved. This, however, is a question best left to Puerto Rican election officials and commonwealth judges to decide.

Rossello contends that if these ballots were counted, his supporters' votes would be diluted, and their right to equal protection under the law would be violated. That argument stretches the federal civil rights statutes and the 14th Amendment to potentially ludicrous extremes. By that standard, any ballot dispute in the country, down to the least significant local office, could be grounds for a federal lawsuit.

Rosello's argument relies on the US Supreme Court ruling in Bush v. Gore, which handed the 2000 election to the president. But this is not Bush v. Gore. Then, the five justices in the majority were deciding in favor of Florida elections officials who were opposing recounts ordered by the Florida Supreme Court.

Lower federal courts declined to get involved in the Florida dispute, which in any event involved high federal office, not a local jurisdiction like a state or commonwealth. It would be unwise for a federal court to get involved in an election with no federal significance.

The US District Court in San Juan has not ruled on the merits of the equal protection argument, but it has ordered disputed ballots held separately during a recount. That by itself ought to be an impermissible intrusion into the commonwealth's election process.

The court in Boston has jurisdiction over appeals from federal judges' rulings on the island. It ought to instruct its colleagues on the San Juan bench that this Puerto Rican dispute is not a federal case.

Taking Puerto Rico; No Bush v. Gore Redux, Please


December 13, 2004
Copyright © 2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

The Washington Times

If you thought using the courts to decide elections ended with John Kerry's concession speech, you're wrong. The national Democrats wisely didn't seek Bush v. Gore Part Two in the presidential race. But there's a losing candidate in Puerto Rico who didn't get the memo.

While 110 million Americans were pulling the lever for Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry, the people of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico were voting for a new governor. The island's representative in Congress, Anibal Acevedo-Vila, ran on a platform that included maintaining the current commonwealth relationship with the United States. On the other side, Pedro Rossello, a former governor, embraced statehood. The Elections Commission has certified the election-night results: By a margin of 3,380 votes, Mr. Acevedo-Vila won, and Mr. Rossello lost.

In defeat, Rossello has now come up with a scheme to leapfrog the commonwealth's courts and have the federal judiciary void enough legitimate votes to get elected by men in robes instead of average Puerto Ricans. The flamboyant, ethically-challenged former governor is reminiscent of the child who doesn't quite understand the meaning of the word "no," even when it comes from the voters of his own constituency.

A prime example of Mr. Rossello's comprehension problem occurred in 1998 when the voters of Puerto Rico rejected a statehood proposal he had championed. At the time I wrote about the issue in the pages of The Washington Times and noted that despite the defeat, then- Gov. Rossello led a victory celebration in the streets of San Juan, complete with fireworks, and was off to Washington the next day to petition for admission to the Union.

His ploy did not work in 1998, and his 2004 antics should also be rejected. Taking a page from Al Gore's 2000 playbook, Mr. Rossello seeks to cast doubt on how certain ballots were cast, pinning his hopes on a potentially sympathetic court thousands of miles away. At issue is Puerto Rico's longstanding practice of mixed voting. The process allows voters to cast a straight-party ticket or to select candidates from different parties. The law also allows a third option: voting a straight ticket but deviating from the party line down-ballot.

Most residents vote a straight-party ticket, but a small percentage, as is their right, choose to cast mixed ballots. This is the hook on which Mr. Rossello is hanging his case. Commonwealth law clearly allows mixed voting, and this fact negates any need for federal judicial involvement. If Mr. Rossello would read his own campaign's voter manuals, he'd read essentially the same thing.

Besides their beautiful tourist destination, Puerto Ricans knows a thing or two about holding elections. Their ballots are blessed with a wonderful simplicity often found lacking in elections. They use old-fashioned paper ballots, with spaces reserved for "Xs" next to the voter options. Each of these ballots is counted on election night by officials from all three political parties. The same process is established for recounts, leaving very little room for mistakes. Thankfully, there are no hanging chads, undercounts or overcounts. The ballot rules are consistent throughout the island, and their validity has never been questioned.

After the Commonwealth Supreme Court rejected Mr. Rossello's arguments, U.S. District Judge Daniel Dominguez weighed in. Appointed by Bill Clinton at the suggestion of then-Gov. Rossello, Judge Dominguez was not even able to decide formally whether he had jurisdiction, despite hearing more than 70 hours of testimony. The case now sits in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, only one step away from the Supreme Court. It never should have left the island.

We should not be shocked at all of this. Mr. Rossello's mode of operation is well known. As governor, his administration was a dark stain on the generally good-government record of Puerto Rico. Corruption was rampant and more than 40 cabinet members, aides, operatives and appointees are now in prison, have declared themselves guilty or have been indicted and are awaiting trial. This rogue's gallery includes his former secretary of education, two former deputy chiefs of staff, his personal secretary, a campaign manager, a pair of former secretarys general of his party as well as the house speaker.

The people of Puerto Rico are in danger of having this election taken away from them and handed to the lawyers. Mr. Acevedo-Vila won fair and square, is winning the ongoing recount, and has the law on his side.

Rep. Roger Wicker is a Mississippi Republican.

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