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Puerto Rico Set for 2nd Voting Round   08/13 06:16

   

   SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Puerto Ricans prepared Thursday for a second 
consecutive weekend of primary elections after the U.S. territory's Supreme 
Court ordered authorities to reopen polling centers where botched ballot 
supplies prevented people from voting in the first round.

   The court's ruling Wednesday affects only those centers that never opened or 
did not remain open for the required eight hours Sunday because of missing or 
delayed ballots.

   The decision raised concerns among some that it leaves out thwarted voters 
who did not return to centers that opened late on Sunday but remained open for 
eight hours, because some people weren't able to come back or weren't aware 
that voting had become possible.

   San Juan Mayor Carmen Yuln Cruz, one of three gubernatorial nominees for 
the main opposition Popular Democratic Party, said she disagreed with the 
ruling for holding partial voting this Sunday.

   "Voters could have been confused by all the conflicting information that 
emerged from one moment to the next and lose the opportunity to vote for 
believing their school was closed," she said.

   Maite Oronoz, president of Puerto Rico's Supreme Court, said in her opinion 
that there was no perfect solution to what she called an "embarrassment" that 
lacerated "beyond repair" the fundamental right to vote.

   "Thousands of Puerto Ricans invested their time, risked their lives in the 
face of potential contagion of COVID-19, made arrangements at their jobs or 
homes, waited in lines under the sun, paid for transportation or mobilized on 
foot --- more than once --- to exercise their right to vote. Many even served 
as volunteers in the schools to guarantee the purity of the processes and the 
State Elections Commission failed them abysmally," she wrote.

   The ruling was a response to five lawsuits filed after voting occurred in 
only about 60 of Puerto Rico's 110 precincts Sunday.

   Three of the five lawsuits were filed by gubernatorial nominees who demanded 
that the votes already cast be tallied and made public. A fourth suit by Gov. 
Wanda Vzquez, who competed in her party's primary, asked that a second round 
of voting be held at all voting centers that opened late. The fifth lawsuit was 
filed by a female voter represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

   The decision was cautiously celebrated by some voters, including Yadira 
Pizarro, a teacher who had stood outside a voting center for several hours 
before going home after being told it would not open.

   "I hope the ballots make it," she said, adding that she plans to go early to 
vote this Sunday. "If they're not there by the time I arrive, I'm leaving and 
I'm not coming back."

   Electoral officials acknowledged after the voting debacle that the last 
remaining ballots didn't arrive until Saturday night and that rental trucks 
carrying ballots and electronic voting machines didn't go out until early 
Sunday, the day of the primary. The materials usually are delivered one or two 
days ahead of time.

   Vzquez and the presidents of the island's two main parties have demanded 
the resignation of the elections commission president, Juan Ernesto Dvila.

   Dvila has said it would be irresponsible to do resign while the primaries 
are still unresolved and told The Associated Press that he does not believe it 
was a mistake to hold the primaries despite knowing things were running behind 
schedule. He blamed the delays on the pandemic, Tropical Storm Isaias and a 
last minute request from both parties for additional ballots.

   "I want to urge the People of Puerto Rico to have confidence in our 
electoral system," Dvila said in a statement after the ruling.

   A federal control board overseeing Puerto Rico's finances has authorized 
$1.27 million for the second round of votes, warning in a letter that "the 
efficiency in the use of these funds is paramount."

   Vzquez is competing against Pedro Pierluisi, a former justice secretary who 
represented Puerto Rico in Congress for eight years, for the gubernatorial 
nomination of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party. Pierluisi briefly served 
as governor last year after Gov. Ricardo Rossell quit following huge protests 
over corruption and a profanity-laced chat that was leaked. But the island's 
Supreme Court ruled Vzquez was constitutionally next in line as justice 
secretary since there was no secretary of state at the time.

   In the the main opposition party's primary, San Juan's mayor faces Puerto 
Rico Sen. Eduardo Bhatia and Carlos Delgado, mayor of the northwest town of 
Isabela.

 
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