The integrity of the vote will be protected, that is what Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced must guarantee the people of Puerto Rico by vetoing the bill through which the PNP majority threatens to break the trust in the institution of suffrage, a pillar of Puerto Rican democracy.
Far from being a result of the consensus that has characterized the island's electoral system, the measure that the Legislative Assembly sent to the governor seems a partisan strategy for the polls.
Such a move undermines trust in public institutions. And what is worse, it is very dangerous for our democracy. And it deeply demoralizes our people, even more so when the Senate and House leaderships want the governor to sign the bill, while many families are struggling to survive a lethal virus and overcome the loss of income from the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic. It is outrageous to think that, while people are suffering death, loss, loneliness, and helplessness, the executive and the legislative branch can agree to turn a measure that stems from electoral selfishness into law.
The bill was approved in both chambers despite the opposition of four of the five registered political parties and organizations that defend individual rights protected by the constitutions of Puerto Rico and the United States.
The bill includes provisions that undermine the protection of the right to vote by eliminating voter intent as an essential basis for the validity of the vote, and ruling out closed vote counts. It is also questionable to allow people living outside Puerto Rico to vote without presenting their voter ID. Clauses that limit the privacy and integrity of the vote for bedridden people are also called into question.
We are not opposed to the technological modernization of the voting system. However, the exercise of suffrage that relies on technology must ensure that each vote is legitimate, free, secret, and counted according to the intent of the voter. These protections are not addressed in the legislation awaiting the governor's signature.
The technology applied to any voting process has to be rigorously validated before an election to corroborate that it is not vulnerable to error or fraud. The fact that we are close to elections constitutes a practical obstacle to adopting electronic or digital mechanisms that, because of time limits, do not assure the integrity of the vote.
Even the President of the State Elections Commission explained the budgetary difficulty of implementing the changes recommended in the draft bill. He referred to the need for $1 million to include a plebiscite proposed by the legislature majority in the general elections. He also raised concerns about the availability of adequate resources to complete the logistics of the elections in a scenario that would require additional security measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its lack of short-term guarantees.
He also expressed concerns about the time needed to provide the necessary maintenance for the operation of 4,700 electronic counting machines, a task that is subject to a contract with Dominion. Updating these vote-counting machines operations and completing the required tests would take at least eight weeks, according to estimates, which complicates the electoral agenda for the primaries.
The governor has a key opportunity to help regain confidence in public institutions by vetoing the electoral bill. The governor must not endorse a bill that is not based on transparency, fiscal efficiency, and rigor in the sound electoral operation. On the contrary, the measure weakens a model emulated by dozens of countries that seek to strengthen democracy.
A true electoral reform must be directed with consensus and inclusion which strengthen political coexistence. This will boost electoral participation and confidence in the exercise of deciding who the people will delegate the high responsibility of leading Puerto Rico.