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Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez loses primary of pro-statehood party

Delayed and missing ballots led to a chaotic primary that forced a second round of voting Sunday.
Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez during a news conference in San Juan on June 30.Ricardo Arduengo / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: Associated Press

LOÍZA, Puerto Rico— Puerto Rican Gov. Wanda Vázquez on Sunday acknowledged losing the primary of her pro-statehood party to Pedro Pierluisi, who briefly served as the U.S. territory's governor last year amid political turmoil.

With more than 66 percent of electoral colleges reporting, Pierluisi had received more than 58 percent of the vote, compared with nearly 42 percent for Vázquez.

Meanwhile, Carlos Delgado, mayor of the northwest town of Isabela for 20 years, was poised to win the nomination of the main opposition Popular Democratic Party by a landslide. Conceding defeat was Puerto Rico Sen. Eduardo Bhatia and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, known for her public spats with President Donald Trump.

With more than 45 percent of electoral colleges reporting, Delgado had received more than 60 percent of the vote.

Delayed and missing ballots a week ago led to a chaotic primary that forced a second round of voting Sunday in which thousands of Puerto Ricans got a second chance to vote for the first time.

Voting centers in nearly 50 of the island's 78 municipalities opened after a recent Supreme Court decision that said a second round of voting would take place at centers that never opened on Aug. 9 or did not remain open for the required eight hours.

The opening of at least one voting center in the north coastal town of Loíza was delayed by more than an hour as dozens of voters grumbled about having to stand in the heat with masks over their faces.

"We expected that there wouldn't be any problems," said Santiago Jiménez, 68, a retiree, adding that some people left.

Jannette Ledoux, coordinator for the unit where the voting center was located, told The Associated Press that the problem was a result of four volunteers' quitting late Saturday, delaying the required ballot counting before the doors opened.

Once voting got underway, an elderly woman emerged after casting her ballot and yelled to those waiting: "Come on! Come on! Let's vote! Let's vote!"

But not everyone could participate in Sunday's second round.

The Supreme Court's ruling permanently left out voters like Eldy Correa, 67, a retiree who went to her voting center in the southwest town of Cabo Rojo three times last Sunday only to find out later that it had opened late.

"They took away our right to vote," she said, adding that she was upset with the president of the elections commission despite his apologies. "Sorry for what? That doesn't resolve anything."

Puerto Rico is preparing for its Nov. 3 general elections, which will see a record six candidates running for governor. Among them is Pierluisi, who was governor for less than a week after Ricardo Rosselló resigned last year following huge protests sparked by a profanity-laced chat that was leaked. However, the island's Supreme Court ruled that Vázquez, the justice secretary at the time, was next in line to become governor because there was no secretary of state.

The island's two main parties have demanded that elections commission President Juan Ernesto Dávila resign. Dávila has said it would be irresponsible to do so during the primaries and that he would consider the petition only afterward.

Officials have blamed the chaos of the Aug. 9 primaries on ballots' arriving late to the elections commission and trucks laden with materials not leaving until the day of the primaries, when usually they depart one or two days before. Dávila has said the ballots arrived late because of the pandemic, Tropical Storm Isaias and a last-minute request from both parties to print more of them.

Officials from both parties said Sunday that all ballots arrived on time and that no serious delays were reported.

Many Puerto Ricans remained angry and embarrassed over a botched primary that many say was a blow to the U.S. territory's democracy. But that didn't stop Irma Muñoz, 72, a retiree, from weathering heat and the pandemic to stand in line for a second time to cast her vote.

"You have to make the sacrifice," she said. "Otherwise, we're stuck with what we have now."

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