Washington - Although since June 6, former Vice President Joseph Biden has enough delegates to secure the White House nomination, Puerto Rico holds its Democratic presidential primary today amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The State Elections Commission (SEC) will have 91 polling stations open between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to receive voters. Voters were also able to vote in advance at Permanent Registration Boards (JIP, Spanish acronym) between Thursday and yesterday.
“It is going to be a low turnout primary,” said House Popular Democratic Party (PPD) speaker Rafael “Tatito” Hernández, who seeks to become the next president of the island´s Democratic party on August 15 and serves as co-chairman of Puerto Rico for Biden Committee.
The last time Democrats held a presidential primary in Puerto Rico, in 2016, they mobilized 89,690 voters. There were, however, a low number of voting sites compared to the 2008 primaries, when the total number of voters was 387,299, recalled Manuel Álvarez Rivera, who developed electionspuertorico.org.
On both occasions, the Democratic primary coincided with those of the PPD and the New Progressive Party (PNP), which mobilize many people.
Today’s ballot is a return to the past. Charly Rodríguez, president of the U.S. Democratic Party in Puerto Rico - who is seeking re-election in August and will go against Hernández - said the ballot includes the eight U.S. presidential candidates who were active in February when the ballot was decided. The Democratic primary was originally scheduled for March 29.
Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar are on the ballot, as are former South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Peter Buttigieg, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, and billionaire Tom Steyer are all in the ballot.
Of those, only Biden and Sanders, who suspended his campaign April 9, still are interested in winning delegates to the Democratic presidential convention scheduled for August 13-17, which will be held virtually.
“According to DNC (Democratic National Committee) decisions and the courts, pre-candidates, even if they have withdrawn, have the right to select delegates if they obtain 15 percent of the votes in a district,” said Rodríguez, who expects official results before nightfall.
A voter who goes to the polls under these extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus emergency will receive two ballots. One to select the Democratic candidate for President; on the other, the voter will be able to vote for the White House candidate´s delegate at the presidential convention. Today, voters will choose 33 delegates per district to the presidential convention.
The other 18 will be elected at a July 26 assembly in Ponce. “We expect to see a transparent election,” said David Southgate, spokesman for Sanders’ campaign in Puerto Rico. But, he said that during the early vote, voters had problems voting in the Registration Boards.
Despite conversations to avoid the primary, Southgate, who lives in Ponce, said there was never certainty among all the groups that support Sanders and the Democratic leadership that a delegate distribution agreement could avoid any judicial challenge.
However, the 18 Puerto Rico delegates will be distributed among Biden and Sanders´ supporters as part of an agreement between both politicians’ campaigns, said Rep. Hernández.