Governor Wanda Vázquez faces the crucial opportunity to demonstrate her respect for the democratic principles that bring social peace and stability to Puerto Rico. It is up to her to reject the legislative attempt to impose on Puerto Rican a law that would sow distrust in our electoral system.
For experts, the Electoral Code proposal, born from unilateralism and opportunism in the legislative majority, undermines electoral guarantees, and thus, credibility in the legal framework that supports our right to vote.
If the measure is finally presented to La Fortaleza, the governor must veto it, in defense of the integrity of a direct and transparent process to vote for those who will govern us every four years.
A multi-partisan analysis, focused on the best interest of the people of Puerto Rico and including data and recommendations by experts, can help strengthen the electoral code. Any amendment to the voting legal framework should seek to strengthen our democracy.
Experts claim that the so-called electoral reform gives the party in power the entire electoral structure less than a year away from the general election. The Senate barely held a public hearing on the bill and did not unveil the final version until voting day, when they circulated the measure among minority lawmakers. Secrecy contributes to suspicions about the legislative measure that would significantly change the way people vote in Puerto Rico.
The legislative proposal seeks to gradually eliminate the paper-ballot between the next election and 2028 when it would have been fully eliminated. Paper-ballots have previously helped to dispel doubts and validate voters' decisions. Without paper ballots, there is no possibility of recounts that have decided elections in the past. By eliminating paper and making electronic voting into a single vote, the proposal moves away from those initiatives to protect the voting system that the United States is taking as a result of the Russian interference in the 2016 general election. Congressional reports precisely have recommended requiring paper-ballots as evidence in case of controversy, since electronic systems are vulnerable to manipulation.
The local measure also deregulates provisions on absentee and advanced voting so that any person could vote in the next election without having the conditions to qualify as a voter. In 2012, eliminating voting guarantees for bedridden citizens gave way to an avalanche of applications, some of which were submitted without the consent of the alleged petitioners or issued on behalf of people who were dead.
On the other hand, according to the measure, it would be enough for a person to present any U.S. jurisdiction driver's license to vote in the Puerto Rican elections since the proposal eliminates the card confirming the voter's registration. In contrast, the current legal framework guarantees, among other provisions, that anyone who has been living on the island for one year, and intends to remain here, can vote.
Even with areas to improve, other countries consider Puerto Rico’s electoral system as a model of credibility. As a tradition that values and enriches democracy, major changes to the electoral structure have been thoughtfully debated seeking consensus among the parties, thus bringing justice, civility and transparency to the process. The State Election Commission itself arose from the recognition of the need for consensus.
The electoral structure has the mission of defending and guaranteeing the right to vote. And to achieve this, our democracy has to stand as a great shield against the abuse of power.