Governor Vazquez Signs New Election Law

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced signed the Electoral Code last week after extensive discussions with various stakeholders.

According to NotiCel, a Puerto Rico news source, Vazquez signed the new law while recognizing the difficulty of coming to an agreement among all parties on the complex measure.  “My responsibility as governor,” she noted, “is to evaluate the measure in its entirety.”

She added that she decided to sign the law only after it was amended, referring to the removal of the measure’s initial section on internet voting.

Internet voting

An early version of the bill included a plan to permit the casting of votes online. The proposal would have allowed online voting for absentee ballots and early voting this year, and was intended to shift Puerto Rico’s voting online formats voters by 2028. The American Civil Liberties Union objected to this plan, saying that “[t]here is no secure way to hold elections online.”

The 2020 online vote would have served as a pilot program, triggering a decision about moving to online voting in 2028.

An nonpartisan organization called Verified Voting sent a letter to Vazquez last month saying that the insecurity of current online voting systems is “settled science” and pointing out that the Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence of the United States Senate included the recommendation that “states should resist pushes” to move their elections online because “no system of online voting has yet established itself as secure.”

The United States doesn’t have a centralized system for voting, so States and territories are able to make many of their decisions about how they conduct their elections.

Absentee and early voting

The new Electoral Code includes a provision that any voter who requests an absentee ballot may have one, as long as the voter attests that he or she would have trouble getting to a polling place for any of a variety of reasons. These include hospitalization, caregiving responsibilities, work conflicts, travel, physical handicap, and many more.

El Nuevo Dia reports that gubernatorial candidate Eduardo Bhatia shared suspicions that easing absentee voting is intended to allow people living in States to sneak in a vote. Aníbal Jose Torres, the president of the party Bhatia represents, described the signing of the bill as “a betrayal.” He said that Vazquez had promised to wait for full consensus on the bill before signing it.

“We agree that Puerto Ricans should exercise their right to vote, without putting their health or that of their families at risk,” said Vazquez. “There is no reason why any Puerto Rican residing on the island and active in the Electoral Registry but who will not be in Puerto Rico on Election Day, should be deprived of his or her rights.”

Other provisions of the bill

Other elements of the new bill focused on cost cutting, primarily by consolidating or eliminating jobs relating to the elections. The governor said that these measures would save Puerto Rico more than $500,000.

The PROMESA Fiscal Oversight and Management Board had called in the past for the elimination of many Permanent Registration Boards, which will be reduced from 35 to 12 by the new code.

The new law also sets voting hours at 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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