The State Elections Committee (CEE), which is responsible for the implementation of the electoral process in Puerto Rico, must be governed by the highest administrative and operational efficiency, protecting the right to vote.
Amid fiscal adjustments that affect so many Puerto Ricans, there is no room for excuses to postpone a thorough revision of the CEE´s operation. This includes having a more active role in the year leading up to an election, when it is required to organize and oversee the voting process under reasonable expenses parameters.
The CEE suffers from redundancies of processes and structures that translate into a significant payroll with limited functions during non-electoral years. It is a costly bureaucracy that taxpayers can no longer finance while many pensioners face cuts in pensions and services, or increases in education costs, among other adjustments. The austerity requested from the CEE can be redirected to agencies with tasks as critical as public security.
We support the Oversight Board request to Governor Ricardo Rosselló and legislative leaders to adjust the CEE spending structure to the fiscal reality of the island. We agree with La Fortaleza that the CEE is not exempt from the need to adjust its expenses according to the fiscal situation and that it has the responsibility to ensure sustainable electoral processes. Citizens have long demanded this and that the government must address this issue.
The CEE spends about $ 37 million per year, which includes $ 8.7 million for operations and $ 23.5 million for payroll and related costs. It has 700 employees and more than 85 Permanent Registration Boards (JIPs) throughout the island.
It totals $ 148 million per term. This amount supports a complicated structure based on the principle of distrust between parties, called "partisan balance". At the central level, the system through which each party oversees the other, translates into a president and three vice-presidents, one for each registered party. The situation is repeated in the JIPs, where employees of the three registered parties are assigned to functions that become sporadic in non-electoral years. These include voter registration, photos for the electoral card and other materials. Each new registered party adds layers of employees at the central level and at local boards.
It is necessary to provide rationality to electoral spending. In non-election years, the CEE can maintain a minimum structure to follow programs and projects and prepare for the elections. The use of technology for voters registration, records management and changes in the system should be prioritized. Processes would be more efficient, cheaper and accessible.
Puerto Rico can learn from the electoral administrative efficiency of other jurisdictions. Effectiveness is not incompatible with the democratic exercise of electing those who will govern representing the people. On the contrary, it facilitates it and makes it more transparent.
An administrative review in the CEE would be a first step of what should be a comprehensive reform of the electoral system. This includes campaign financing, and raising auditing standards and transparency in donations to parties and candidates, as a way to discourage political investment. It is also imperative to fight cronyism that affects the system of merit, among other maladies of the system.
Governor Ricardo Rosselló has expressed his intention to give way to a broad electoral reform. The legislature has expressed itself in this line, while the CEE President announced his intention to join the electoral reform discussion.
The electoral reform is an essential step to achieve the much-needed administrative efficiency, while guaranteeing stability and transparency in the system. It is a debt the political class has with the people.