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Puerto Rico at last elects governor

After a contentious recount that lasted nearly two months, Puerto Rico's elections commission on Tuesday officially declared Anibal Acevedo Vila the new governor of the U.S. commonwealth.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The elections commission on Tuesday officially declared Anibal Acevedo Vila the governor of Puerto Rico, ending a contentious recount that lasted nearly two months.

Acevedo Vila, who supports keeping the island a U.S. commonwealth, beat out Pedro Rossello, who was governor from 1993 to 2001, and wanted Puerto Rico to become the 51st state of the U.S. federation.

With all votes recounted, Acevedo Vila of the Popular Democratic Party received 963,303 votes (48.4 percent) compared with 959,737 (48.22 percent) for Rossello, election officials said. Third-party candidate Ruben Berrios, who supports full independence for the island, garnered 54,551 votes (2.74 percent).

On Thursday, the State Elections Commission announced that Acevedo Vila was the likely winner of the recount with 99.9 percent of the votes counted. But officials held off on certifying Acevedo Vila until Tuesday after all the votes were counted.

Acevedo Vila's inauguration will be held Sunday afternoon at a park in the capital of San Juan.

Court ends challenge
Election results from Nov. 2 showed Acevedo Vila narrowly leading Rossello, 48.38 percent to 48.18 percent, forcing the recount. Rossello and his New Progressive Party quickly challenged thousands of ballots favoring Acevedo Vila.

Nearly two weeks ago, the federal appeals court in Boston effectively put an end to Rossello's legal challenge, giving jurisdiction over the ballots to the island's Supreme Court — which supported the Popular Democratic argument — instead of to a U.S. district judge who refused to adjudicate the disputed votes.

The New Progressive Party on Tuesday ruled out seeking an appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court, but Rossello has not yet conceded defeat.

The disputed election deepened bitter divisions in the Caribbean island of 4 million people who have argued for decades about whether to become a U.S. state, remain a U.S. commonwealth or move toward independence. Another 3 million people of Puerto Rican descent live on the U.S. mainland.

The value of ‘X’
Rossello disputed ballots in which voters marked both the name of Acevedo Vila, who was the nonvoting delegate to U.S. Congress, and Roberto Prats, a legislator who was running for Acevedo Vila's position as Congress delegate, as well as marking an "x" for the tiny Independence Party. He said that made it impossible to determine voter intent.

Acevedo Vila's supporters say Puerto Rico's laws allow voters to cast "mixed votes" to support keeping the Independence Party registered while also supporting candidates from other parties.

In a Dec. 15 ruling, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said "there is no clearly articulated Commonwealth policy, much less a statute" that indicates ballots marked for Acevedo Vila and the Independence Party are invalid.

But in his petition for reconsideration filed earlier this week, Rossello said the court's decision was "patently erroneous."

Fraud charges muddle recount
Rossello claimed that the State Election Commission changed the rules governing the disputed ballots after the election.

Accusations of voter fraud marred the recount process. The pro-statehood party said prisoners — who are allowed to vote in the territory — were forced to vote for the Popular Democratic Party.

The party also said a few votes had irregular marks in pencil and pen on individual ballots. Electoral officials dismissed the accusations.