A transparent electoral system strengthens democracy. Without mechanisms to protect the integrity of each vote, the electoral system becomes vulnerable to interests and attempts to seize power.
It is imperative to protect our voting system. It has been a model of democratic safeguards for other countries. Any reform must strengthen that integrity. The bill the Legislature is evaluating raises serious concerns in several sectors because it would jeopardize the foundations of electoral democracy. Doubts must be resolved with a documented analysis that leads to improving the system, and not weakening it.
In a democracy, the electoral system is a national asset that must be immune to particular interests. The bill under Senate consideration proposes significant changes to the voting exercise and the entire electoral structure.
Those who promote the bill argue that the intention of the reform is to make a more agile and less expensive system, for which it is not necessary to diminish electoral probity. Experts in voting structures warn that the bill weakens or eliminates those guarantees that have characterized the Puerto Rican democracy.
The proposal to liberalize absentee and advanced ballot, allowing any person who requests it to vote is one of the aspects that raises serious concerns among experts. Currently, the right to absentee and advance voting applies to students, military, farmers and people working abroad. Such exceptions must be certified in writing and a competent authority must record the circumstances in which they vote.
Allowing incidental travelers, for work or holidays, to vote remotely raises doubts about the safeguards that validate each vote, above all because the legislative proposal does not include the electoral card. One would only need to bring a driver's license issued by any U.S. jurisdiction to vote.
The sponsors of the bill note that the legislation preserves the guarantees of registration, transfer or relocation. But there are doubts about where to draw the line in order to ensure that people outside our electoral context influence the results. The voting system provides that you cannot have two voting addresses. The place where you vote should be the one where daily activities take place.
To challenge votes, the electoral system provides a series of proceedings that the new bill seeks to criminalize. Based on eligibility difficulties, techniques or discrepancies about voter data, such proceedings have been critical to clarify the validity of a vote in the past.
The bill also seeks to gradually eliminate paper ballots by 2028. These documents have served as clear evidence of the voters' will, in cases of challenge and recounts. Even for the U.S. government, it will be mandatory to include physical ballots inevery federal election process, given Russia's attempts to interfere in federal elections.
The Senate bill also seeks to leave in the appointment of the president of the State Elections Commission (CEE, Spanish acronym) in the hands of Supreme Court justices, while today, that is the governor´s responsibility. Weakening the island’s institutions and trust in the electoral and judicial systems should be avoided. The Supreme Court may have to review decisions taken by the CEE, therefore it cannot be judge and party.
Each electoral reform proposal must be justified with evidence that facilitates consensus in favor of the integrity of the electoral system. The best interest of democracy must be above any personal or partisan ambition. In the countdown to the 2020 election, with special elections this year and primaries next summer, it is important that the transparency of a system that guarantees freedom of choice while preventing any party from perpetuating itself in power prevails.