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Puerto Rico ordered to resume primary after ballot shortage suspension

The island's Elections Commission failed to deliver ballots to all polling centers in time for election day.
An official turns away two voters at a voting center lacking ballots in Carolina, Puerto Rico, on Aug. 9.Danica Coto / AP

The chaotic gubernatorial primary that was partially suspended over the weekend must be resumed next Sunday, Puerto Rico's Supreme Court said Wednesday night in a highly anticipated ruling.

"The primary process will remain suspended until it resumes on Sunday," according to a news release announcing the unanimous ruling. The court also determined that the votes by those who were able to cast their ballots this past weekend "are valid and will not be annulled."

The Puerto Rico Supreme Court also prohibited the release of any kind of preliminary or official results until Sunday's makeup primary takes place.

The decision comes three days after thousands of Puerto Rican voters like Carmen Damaris Quiñones Torres were unable to vote in a primary election last Sunday after the island's Elections Commission suspended it because it failed to deliver ballots to all polling centers in time for election day.

In a lawsuit Quiñones Torres filed against the Elections Commission with the help of Puerto Rico's ACLU chapter, she said she was on her way to vote Sunday when she found out her polling place had closed down early because it never received any ballots. Some polling centers received ballots hours after voting was scheduled to start and others ran out of ballots halfway through the primary.

These scenes were replayed across hundreds of polling centers on the island, depriving countless Puerto Ricans from their right to vote.

Mayte Bayolo-Alonso, an ACLU attorney representing Quiñones Torres, told NBC News she was satisfied with the way the Puerto Rican Supreme Court acknowledged the Elections Commission's "gross negligence" during the primary.

The Puerto Rico Supreme Court wrote in their decision that the Elections Commission "failed to comply with their duty to coordinate, direct and manage the total celebration of a scheduled primaries in violation of the constitutional postulates and the electoral regulations."

The shoddy primary process had triggered a flurry of lawsuits from the candidates on primary ballots — including one from Gov. Wanda Vázquez, who is unelected after taking office last year when then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló resigned amid mass protests responding to a political scandal. Her primary opponent, Pedro Pierluisi, who like Vázquez is from the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, is suing and so are opposition party candidates Eduardo Bhatia and Carlos Delgado.

The decision from Puerto Rico's Supreme Court responds to all lawsuits, saying voting can only be resumed in polling places "that did not receive election materials or those that received them, but did not start the voting process." Polls that did not remain open for eight hours, as established by Puerto Rico's electoral code, will also be able resume voting procedures Sunday.

"Elections must take place from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., as established by the Primary Regulations," the court said.

Elections Commission President Juan Ernesto Dávila said in a statement in Spanish that his agency "will act in accordance with the determination made by the Supreme Court. It is our duty to guarantee the culmination of the primary electoral process."

The court's ruling explicitly says that "voting will take place next Sunday" in the polling place where Quiñones Torres is registered to vote.

"The fact that the court named our client by first and last name and explicitly guaranteed her right to vote is great," after Elections Commission officials refused to accept that she faced "a violation of her rights," said Bayolo-Alonso.

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