SANTO DOMINGO – The Dominican Republic’s Central Election Board (JCE) suspended on Sunday the nationwide municipal elections after multiple technical problems with the automated voting system, which is being used for the first time, although only in a partial manner.
The governing Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) said on Sunday that “sabotage” in the country’s voting system led to the suspension of the nationwide municipal elections earlier in the day.
PLD president Temistocles Montas, in reading a communique agreed to by his and other allied parties, said that “what occurred in the Dominican Republic was sabotage.”
“We have reasons to believe that there are internal sectors of the Central Election Board that participated in it,” said Montas, adding that the opposition parties are the only ones who benefit from the suspension.
In his remarks, Montas said that the PLD would win the elections and complained about the criticism that the opposition has leveled at election authorities.
“We had already warned that sectors of the opposition have been undermining the reputation of the JCE,” said the PLD leader.
In addition, Montas said that the PLD had learned that opposition Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) presidential candidate Luis Abinader had pressured the JCE to suspend the elections.
Montas, just as Abinader had done earlier on Sunday, demanded that the “full weight of the law” be brought to bear against those responsible “for trying to place in check the institutions and manipulate popular sovereignty” by any actions that led to the suspension of the elections.
“What is appropriate is to apply, as quickly as possible, what the constitutional order establishes,” said Montas, accusing the JCE of a “lack of responsibility.”
He said that “We feel that if technical failures were found last night” in the voting system, a situation that JCE president Julio Cesar Castaños has acknowledged, these “should have been resolved beyond all doubt or the elections should have been suspended before the opening of the polls.”
He also said, however, that he was in “disagreement with the complete suspension” of the elections at all precincts, offering the opinion that voting should have continued in the 140 municipalities where exclusively manual voting was being carried out.
Montas also reiterated to the JCE its “obligation to convene elections as soon as possible” and announced that “the PLD will participate in those elections regardless of the voting model” to be used.
Earlier on Sunday, although there had been no unanimous consensus among the Dominican political leadership, the JCE “decided … at 11:11 in the morning, to suspend the elections in general both regarding the automated vote and in the municipalities that have physical (i.e. printed) ballots,” JCE president Julio Cesar Castaños Guzman said at a press conference.
“Promptly, in consultation with the national leadership, the JCE will make the appropriate extraordinary announcement” so that the elections, in which almost 7.5 million citizens are eligible to vote, may be held, Castaños Guzman said.
Three hours after the formal opening of the polls and after numerous complaints from the opposition of delays and failures of the automated vote system, the JCE chief acknowledged that on Sunday night “the precincts where the automated vote (mechanism) was being used began to warn … that the ballot at each of those precincts had a problem, a mistake.”
Specifically, he said, in about half of the precincts where people were going to vote automatically “the ballots were uploading incompletely.”
Election authorities “tried all night to correct that error,” but they were unable to do so and thus the elections “cannot be held, for basic reasons.”
Castaños Guzman said that “it’s really a bother that this has happened, but the truth is the truth, and people and institutions – instead of continuing to pretend to bury their heads in the sand – have to have the courage to tell things as they are.”
The automated voting system, which is being implemented in the Dominican Republic for the first time, was to be used in just 1,772 of the country’s 16,032 electoral precincts, with the vast bulk of the precincts using manual methods – where no problems were detected on Sunday – according to Castaños Guzman.
The municipal elections are key both for the governing PLD, which along with its political allies holds 107 of the country’s 158 mayorships, and for the opposition PRM, which holds 30, including the National District, which includes the capital of Santo Domingo.
PRM leader Luis Abinader, said that the problems causing election authorities to suspend the vote are “a serious abuse of democratic rights.”
In remarks to the media, he blamed Dominican authorities for the “deep institutional crisis” stemming from the unexpected suspension of the municipal elections, saying that it is “unprecedented” that Dominicans “have been unable to exercise their right to elect and be elected.”
He also demanded that “all those who have given rise to this serious damage to the Dominican Republic” be identified and called for them to feel “the full weight of the law.”
Abinader also complained that in many precincts where the automated vote system was in use, the ballots appearing via computer screens to voters did not show any of the PRM or other opposition candidates.
Meanwhile, after the election suspension, the Organization of American States’ election observer mission in the Dominican Republic for the municipal vote called for a “frank” and “constructive” dialogue to deal with the situation.
The head of the OAS observer mission, former Chilean President Eduardo Frei, in a appearance before the press, called on Dominican election authorities and political actors to “maintain a frank and constructive dialogue with an eye toward the next steps that must be taken in the face of this complex reality.”