Mismanagement, Leaks, and Lawsuits: Puerto Rico’s Primary Election Mess

Aug 10, 2020
6:35 PM

An official turns away two voters at a voting center lacking ballots in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Sunday, August 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Dánica Coto)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The primary elections for the island’s two main political parties ended in disaster on Sunday after multiple polling locations never received ballots and were not ready for voters in the morning when voting was supposed to start.

Among cries of anger against the Puerto Rico State Commission on Elections (better known as the Comisión Estatal de Elecciones, or CEE by its acronym in Spanish) and calls for CEE president Juan Ernesto Dávila Rivera to resign, this primary election indicates how the 2020 election process is far from over.

Ballot Disaster

The issue of the ballots was already being questioned long before Sunday’s disaster.

An employee from Printech, the printing press contracted by the CEE to make the ballots, confirmed to a source of Latino Rebels that the printing press ran out of ink last Tuesday and had received the ink through a rush order just days before the primary.

Printech, which had been closed physically and had not commented to journalists in Cayey earlier on Monday, released a statement saying that they followed the CEE’s orders and strict guidelines for printing the ballots and that both parties hosting primaries on Sunday were well aware that there would not be enough ballots beforehand.

The printing press also noted that they went through with printing the ballots even though the CEE had not yet paid them for their services.

CEE Says No Results Are Public, but Leaks Continue

Even though the CEE has stated that they will not be releasing the results from those polling locations that were able to vote, many images have been made public, since the voting machines automatically print results once they are shut off, as they were on Sunday but will be used again next week.


Though not every municipality was able to vote, many were surprised at the leaked results that showed current Senate president Thomas Rivera Schatz (also the head of the island’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party, PNP) receiving incredibly low numbers from the leaked locations. Sen. Evelyn Vázquez, who faced backlash after intervening in the distribution of supplies for earthquake victims along with her husband, was also seen as getting low results, as well as Gov. Wanda Vázquez, who is running for the PNP nomination against opponent Pedro Pierluisi. Numbers, however, from over half of the municipalities won’t be in until the 16th.

Miguel Romero, current Senator and PNP candidate for the San Juan mayor’s race, has already claimed victory with 76% of the votes. Romero’s campaign is demanding that the CEE release the results for the districts and municipalities that were able to vote without a problem, saying that that they should confirm his win in Puerto Rico’s capital city.

Populares React

Though most of the blame has gone toward the PNP-controlled CEE, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) was also running its primary and suffered just as much from the absence of ballots.

The PPD released a document where they established that only 31 out of 110 precincts had received voting materials on Sunday, with many extending the voting times due to ballots arriving late.

Eduardo Bhatia, one of the PPD’s three gubernatorial candidates in Sunday’s primary, asked opponents Carmen Yulín Cruz and Carlos “Charlie” Delgado to solve this electoral mishap as soon as possible.

Yulín Cruz, the current San Juan mayor, had been on social media on Sunday, asking voters to go out to their polling locations, and quickly changed her tune once she noticed that voting procedures weren’t going as planned. When ballots hadn’t arrived, Yulín Cruz asked Vázquez to sign an executive order to allow private business owners to let their employees vote if couldn’t vote earlier, and later claimed that Vázquez was trying to wash her hands from this disaster.


PPD member Anibal Acevedo Vila, a former governor who is running for Resident Commissioner, also shared his thoughts. He called the event as something never seen before in modern history and that the current government is incapable of running an electoral process.

Lawsuit After Lawsuit

After the absence of ballots and the postponement of the primaries, multiple lawsuits have been made against the CEE and the political parties involved.

The first lawsuit came from the American Civil Liberties Union chapter of Puerto Rico, presented in the name of a voter in Trujillo Alto who was unable to vote. The lawsuit demanded the courts to declare Sunday’s actions to close polling locations illegal and unconstitutional.

The biggest lawsuits come from two candidates—Pierluisi and Bhatia. Pierluisi, a former Resident Commissioner and the interim governor before Vázquez after Ricardo Rosselló resigned last summer, was the first to sue the CEE , asking to release election results before the additional August 16 primary.

Bhatia, a current senator and Senate Minority Speaker, shared similar demands in his lawsuit.


Many are questioning Pierluisi’s true intentions. One source told Latino Rebels that a building owner in Calle Cerra had reached an agreement with Pierluisi for his new campaign offices at 1000 Ponce de León Avenue that he will share with Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González.

Pierluisi’s case will be evaluated in the island’s Supreme Court. Both parties have been given 24 hours to send all evidence over to the Court, as a result of the time-sensitive nature of this case.


Isabella Philippi Cámara is a freelance journalist who has worked for GFR Media, and is currently a rising senior in university studying communications. You can find her on Twitter @iphilippicamara