Puerto Rico Partially Suspends Primary Elections Over Lack of Ballots

August 9, 2020 Updated: August 9, 2020

Puerto Rico on Sunday suspended voting at polling places that ran out of ballots, with some officials calling for the resignation of the president of the territory’s elections commission.

The voting centers, which did not receive ballots by the early afternoon on Sunday, will have their primaries rescheduled, the election commission said.

The leaders of Puerto Rico’s two major political parties announced that the centers, which turned away voters on Aug. 9, will now hold primaries on Aug. 16. Some politicians argued that the entire election should be cancelled and run again on another date. The two left-wing parties have a field of five primary candidates vying to face off in the general election in November.

A federal control board with oversight of Puerto Rico’s finances said in a statement that the “dysfunctional” voting process was unacceptable. The board blamed the fiasco on inefficiency by the elections commission.

“I have never seen on American soil something like what has just been done here in Puerto Rico. It’s an embarrassment to our government and our people,” Pedro Pierluisi, a gubernatorial candidate challenging Gov. Wanda Vázquez in the primary, said.

Vázquez called the situation “a disaster” and demanded the resignation of the president of the elections commission, Juan Rivera. A commission spokeswoman said Rivera was not granting interviews.

“They made the people of Puerto Rico, not the candidates, believe that they were prepared,” Vázquez said. “Today the opposite was evident. They lied.”

Thomas Schatz, president of the Senate of Puerto Rico, said that trucks with ballots were still parked at the elections commission headquarters even as he announced the partial suspension of the primaries.

“The question is, why haven’t they left?” Schatz said.

The situation infuriated voters and politicians of all stripes as they blamed Puerto Rico’s elections commission and demanded an explanation for ballots reaching only a handful of voting centers by the afternoon.

Meanwhile, officials from the island’s two main parties scrambled to find solutions as they urged voters to still show up at centers that remained open.

Yadira Pizarro, a 44-year-old teacher, ran out of patience at a shuttered voting center in Carolina where she had waited more than four hours under a blistering sun.

“I cannot believe this. This is some serious negligence,” she said.

One of the most closely watched races on Sunday is that of the pro-statehood Progressive New Party, which pits two candidates who served as replacement governors following last year’s political turmoil. Vázquez faces Pierluisi, who represented Puerto Rico in Congress from 2009 to 2017.

Pierluisi briefly served as governor after Gov. Ricardo Rosselló resigned in August 2019 following widespread street protests over a profanity-laced chat that was leaked and government corruption. But Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court ruled that Vázquez, then the justice secretary, was constitutionally next in line because there was no secretary of state.

Meanwhile, the main opposition Popular Democratic Party, which supports Puerto Rico’s current political status as a U.S. territory, is holding a primary for the first time in its 82-year history. Three people are vying to become governor—San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, known for her public spats with U.S. President Donald Trump following the devastation of Hurricane Maria; Puerto Rico Sen. Eduardo Bhatia; and Carlos Delgado, mayor of the northwest coastal town of Isabela.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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