The presidential primary in Puerto Rico is today, but concerns about election fraud have been growing for days already. Bernie Sanders campaign officials and supporters are worried that a series of problems, ranging from drastically reduced polling stations to poll workers who can’t get certified, might be signs of voter suppression or election fraud. Some of these problems wouldn’t just hurt Sanders supporters, but could reduce everyone’s access to voting during the primary. What exactly is happening? And is it some form of fraud or voter suppression, or just a series of poor management decisions?
Here’s what you need to know.
Polling Stations in Puerto Rico Were Reduced from 1,510 to 432
In a decision that is disturbingly reminiscent of problems seen in Arizona, polling locations in Puerto Rico were reduced from 1,510 to 432. On May 5, the Democratic Party announced there would be 1,510 polling places, according to Caribbean Business. The drastically reduced number was announced on May 27, with the remaining locations being open only for local voting and not the presidential primary. You can read a discussion about the whole thing on this Reddit thread.
In contrast, according to a press release by Grassroots for Bernie volunteers, the 2008 Democratic primary in Puerto Rico had 2,306 polling places serving 384,758 voters. There will only be 432 for the 2016 primary.
This is especially a problem because polling hours are only from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. local time. This could lead to long lines or some voters even being turned away, like they were in Arizona. This ended up happening. Some locations reported long lines and even some people passing out from standing in line in the heat for so long.
In Arizona, similar drastic reductions became such a huge issue that people ended up waiting in line for hours and hours just to vote, with some not able to vote until late into the night. (Read more about Arizona’s problems here.)
The decrease in polling stations could turn a primary that was expected to have 600,000 voters participating into one with just 300,000 voters, Caribbean Business reported. On Reddit, one person suggested the problem was that they didn’t have enough poll workers and ballots have to be counted manually. However, this doesn’t make much sense, considering that in 2008 they were able to handle 2,306 polling places.
Sanders Poll Workers Are Having Trouble Getting Certified
Members of Sanders’ team began accusing the local Democratic Party of fraud the day before the primary started, Caribbean Business reported. (You can hear more about the polling location and certification problems in the video above.)
The problems began when prison inmates were voting and workers faced strange “irregularities.” The Bernie Sanders officials could never get certified, said Betsy Franceschini, Sanders’ Hispanic vote director. She said they submitted all their officials in time, but none were certified while all of Clinton’s were:
Our Bernie Sanders officials were never certified. We had 40 officials we submitted in time for the prisons. Not one of them was certified, while all of theirs (Clinton’s) went in. Attorney Manny Suárez had to go in order for us to be let in. This is a great fraud.”
Roberto Prats, the president of Puerto Rico’s Democratic Party, denied the allegations, Caribbean Business reported. He said they were investigating one of Franceschini’s poll workers. He insisted that Sanders officials were at the prison voting locations. But Sanders’ campaign said the certifications weren’t delivered and officials had to go to the prisons to put some pressure on officials.
If certification problems continue during the primary, this would mean that non-certified poll workers would be able to observe, but can’t contest or make complaints.
Kurt Hackbarth, who made the video posted above, told Heavy:
With up to 400,000 people shut out of voting in (today’s) Democratic primary, two-thirds of polls closed a week before the primary, and the unpardonable delay in certifying Sanders’ poll workers, tomorrow’s primary is shaping up to be the worst case of voter suppression in this entire primary cycle.”
While Sanders poll workers couldn’t get certified on Saturday, it appeared that Puerto Rico Democrats may have still been recruiting Clinton poll workers at the same time:
Kenneth D. McClintock is the National Committeeman for the Puerto Rico Democratic Party.
The translation of his tweet roughly means: “If you want Puerto Rico to have the great honor, 1.) Find your closest Democratic polling place; 2.) Go out and vote for Hillary Clinton and … sign up tonight to be an observer or poll worker. Get in touch with me by DM or messenger on my Facebook page.”
In previous tweets, he retweeted statuses from other people saying that Sanders had never done anything for Puerto Rico, had no chance of winning the nomination, and others shouldn’t be fooled by his “siren song.”
It’s unclear what rules, if any, there are regarding DNC committeemen advocating one candidate over another.
Also on Saturday, a local Puerto Rican newspaper called Primera Hora published an article pointing to additional potential issues with the primary. Hackbarth sent Heavy a translation of the Spanish-language article, which said that the Puerto Rican Bernie Sanders Committee was going to submit a complaint to the FBI accusing certain inmates of being pressured to vote for Clinton. The complaint will also allege that early voting took place in some locations without proper notice, attorney Manny Suarez said in the article.
At this point, it’s unclear how all of this will affect the ultimate result of the primaries or what can or will be done to fix the issues. Whether the problem is purposeful or simply neglectful or a sign of mismanagement is still being looked into. But if polling problems get as bad as were seen in Arizona and other states, there might be extensive election hearings and lawsuits in Puerto Rico’s future.