The final stretch towards the island´s two leading parties primary elections has coincided with the president of the State Elections Commission (SEC), Juan Ernesto Dávila, stating that general elections cannot be held if the requested funds are not granted. Accepting that would be improper and even unconstitutional.
The SEC should have been aware, at least over the last two terms, of the serious financial situation Puerto Rico is going through. Throughout the past few years, analysts, economists, and the media have been warning of the need to make adjustments and address the serious consequences of having a bankrupt government that is unable, among other things, to support an expensive electoral body that only has essential tasks during the months before elections.
Neither our administrations -previous ones and the current one-, nor the Legislative Assembly assumed their responsibility to make adjustments to the operation of a body that should have moved to more efficient and austere operations long ago.
Exposing now, after the complications with the early vote in the New Progressive Party's primary, that with the funds the CEE has, neither general elections nor the "Statehood: yes-or-no" referendum could be held, and that, if they had to do so, it would be an "arduous and rushed" exercise, is placing the right to vote in a precarious situation.
Canceling or postponing general elections is out of the question since the elections are established in the Puerto Rico Constitution. The alternative of holding them without guaranteeing the rigor of the process seems to give the impression of taking for granted situations that are probably unprecedented in the island's electoral history. These options must be rejected.
After these expressions, the SEC cannot continue to operate clinging to the practices of the years of bonanza and subject to the whim of political representatives in that body. Electoral commissioners must also be held accountable for this disorganization less than three months before general elections. They seem to believe that funds will somehow become available and, instead of adjusting the budget, or requesting small amounts that would be easier to cover, they say they need about $14 million more for the general elections and $3.5 million to hold the referendum simultaneously.
SEC represents a long dilemma, the need for a drastic transformation in its structure and functions, has never been included in political parties platforms, largely due to political interests prevailing there. Now, we see the consequences.
It is up to the Governor and the Legislative Assembly to engage in dialogue with the Oversight Board and with SEC officials to ensure that the November elections are not at risk this year or compromised again. The government must prioritize the commitment to efficient management at the SEC.
Primary elections next Sunday will test a system that has already faced complications during the PNP early vote. Efficiency and trust must prevail in these primary elections, and in those to be held in the future. The search for solutions and full cooperation to move the electoral process forward should be the goal on the road to November.
Voters and Puerto Rico deserve no less from the body responsible for protecting the right to vote.