Puerto Rico primaries turn chaotic after ballot delay, residents demand answers

At least half of the island's voting precincts lacked ballots Sunday morning.

After a full year of government turmoil, many Puerto Ricans were expecting to exercise their democratic right on the island's primaries Sunday -- but ballots were not ready.

Primaries for the two main parties in Puerto Rico were scheduled to start at 8 a.m. and end by 4 p.m., but by Sunday morning at least half of the island's voting precincts didn't have ballots.

Around 9 a.m., Puerto Rico's Election Committee issued a statement announcing an extension of voting hours to those centers reporting a delay in ballot handouts. The extension made the hours for voting 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

"Despite the committee's stepbacks, the people of Puerto Rico can be certain that they will be able to exercise their right to vote in these local primaries," read the written statement.

By noon, some electoral teams were still at the committee's headquarters organizing voting materials, while hundreds of Puerto Ricans kept arriving at voting centers.

Some electoral volunteers were forced to tell voters that "ballots never arrived."

As the situation became dire, presidents of the pro-statehood Progressive New Party (known as PNP in Spanish) and Popular Democratic Party (known as PPD in Spanish) held an emergency meeting with the head of the island's electoral commission demanding answers for the delay.

After the meeting ended, PNP president Thomas Rivera Schatz and PPD's president, Anibal Jose Torres, said they were suggesting the suspension of primaries in centers that had not received ballots by 1:45 p.m.

This determination was later submitted in a resolution by the electoral commissioners' secretary, Angel Rosa Barrios.

What went wrong?

Candidates, including the active governor, Wanda Vázquez Garced, suggested the electoral commission was responsible for this chaotic situation.

"It's clear that the electoral commission has been highly irresponsible," Vázquez Garced said Sunday, while demanding the resignation of the commission's president, Jose Ernesto Dávila.

In an interview with El Nuevo Día, Dávila said the issue was linked to a delay in the handout of ballots from the printing company, leading to a slow preparation of the voting material.

Despite knowing about the delay, Dávila said he didn't flag it earlier thinking they could ultimately complete the task in time.

"No one, including electoral commissioners and myself, raised the issue earlier because we thought we could move forward with the event," said Dávila.

Days before the primaries, multiple local outlets reported issues such as lack of organization, lack of materials and ballot shortages. But despite the uncertainty, Dávila assured El Nuevo Día, at the time, that the primaries would be a "success."

What's next?

After multiple complaints were filed in the courts, Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that primaries should resume on Sunday, August 16, in voting precincts that didn’t received ballots.

Votes cast last Sunday will count as part of the primary, but results can’t be published until the whole electoral process ends.

The PNP party has two candidates running for the gubernatorial nomination: Vázquez Garced and Pedro Pierluisi. The PPD party has three candidates running for the gubernatorial nomination: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia, D-P.R., Mayor Carlos Delgado and Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

Mayors, representatives and senators of multiple municipalities in the island were also part of Sunday's primary.

Some candidates are demanding to resume elections as soon as possible, but Dávila said in a radio interview Tuesday that the commission won't be able to resume primaries before Sunday.

With many Puerto Ricans still worried about the lack of organization from the electoral commission, the island is scheduled to have general elections on Nov. 3.