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Friday, November 27, 2020

180 boxes of uncounted ballots found in Puerto Rico one week after election: report

A week after the election, 181 boxes were found in a vault. The elections commission president blamed the situation on what he said was an underfunded and understaffed administrative board.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—Electoral officials are counting thousands of votes after 181 boxes were found on Tuesday at the Administrative and Early Voting Board (JAVAA by its Spanish initials), temporarily located in the Roberto Clemente Coliseum.

Francisco Rosado, president of the Puerto Rico State Commission on Elections, said cardboard briefcases containing the ballots were found in a vault. He blamed the situation on what he described as an underfunded and understaffed administrative board, which this year has been responsible for counting a record number of absentee and early votes.

“We’ve identified, much to our regret, disorganization in the handling of material in the vaults,” he said at a press conference. “Misplaced. Poorly organized. We have to admit that.”

The situation comes a week after the general election drew outrage from voters, who are now questioning the validity of the outcome of certain races.

“Every vote will be counted,” Rosado said. “I have to ask the people of Puerto Rico to trust the transparency of the process.”

Roberto Iván Aponte, the electoral commissioner for the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP by its Spanish initials), told El Nuevo Día on Wednesday that of the 181 boxes found, only 126 contained uncounted ballots. The rest of the boxes had leftover election materials, he said.

The total number of ballots that were in the boxes is still unknown.

Aponte said an additional 60 tables have been set up in the Coliseum for officials to count the ballots today. He also said those votes could affect races like the one for mayor of Culebra, an island municipality to the east of Puerto Rico that is popular with tourists. According to preliminary results, the mayor-elect currently stands by a margin of only two votes.

The incident of the found boxes is the latest in a series of blunders committed by the electoral commission. In August, the island’s primaries had to hold a second round of voting because voting materials were not delivered on time—an unprecedented situation that led to the resignation of the agency’s previous president. The commission was widely criticized for taking an unprecedented four days after the Nov. 3 election to finish counting nearly all votes—only to announce on Tuesday the discovery of the briefcases within the leftover voting material boxes. Usually, the commission releases a final vote count on the night of the election.

Aponte and other officials blame the ongoing problems on a new law approved by Gov. Wanda Vázquez in June, two months before the primary. The ruling led to changes that included the softening of restrictions for absentee and early voting and the elimination of departments and high-ranking officials within the electoral commission. This year, Puerto Rico received more than 220,000 absentee and early votes—a record for officials overwhelmed by paperwork.

Aponte warned the commission’s ongoing problems are tampering with the confidence of voters.

“After these elections, a serious evaluation on how voting will be handled going forward needs to happen,” he said, referring specifically to absentee and early voting.

In light of the situation, the process of scrutinizing election results has been delayed. Rosado said it will resume on Wednesday or Thursday after all of the unearthed ballots are counted.

The Americano‘s Mivette Vega contributed to this story.

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