- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

If you thought using the courts to decide elections ended with John Kerry’s concession speech, you’re wrong. The national Democrats wisely didn’t seek Bush v. Gore Part Two in the presidential race. But there’s a losing candidate in Puerto Rico who didn’t get the memo.

While 110 million Americans were pulling the lever for Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry, the people of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico were voting for a new governor. The island’s representative in Congress, Anbal Acevedo-Vila, ran on a platform that included maintaining the current commonwealth relationship with the United States. On the other side, Pedro Rossello, a former governor, embraced statehood. The Elections Commission has certified the election-night results: By a margin of 3,380 votes, Mr. Acevedo-Vila won, and Mr. Rossello lost.

In defeat, Rossello has now come up with a scheme to leapfrog the commonwealth’s courts and have the federal judiciary void enough legitimate votes to get elected by men in robes instead of average Puerto Ricans. The flamboyant, ethically-challenged former governor is reminiscent of the child who doesn’t quite understand the meaning of the word “no,” even when it comes from the voters of his own constituency.

A prime example of Mr. Rossello’s comprehension problem occurred in 1998 when the voters of Puerto Rico rejected a statehood proposal he had championed. At the time I wrote about the issue in the pages of The Washington Times and noted that despite the defeat, then-Gov. Rossello led a victory celebration in the streets of San Juan, complete with fireworks, and was off to Washington the next day to petition for admission to the Union.

His ploy did not work in 1998, and his 2004 antics should also be rejected. Taking a page from Al Gore’s 2000 playbook, Mr. Rossello seeks to cast doubt on how certain ballots were cast, pinning his hopes on a potentially sympathetic court thousands of miles away. At issue is Puerto Rico’s longstanding practice of mixed voting. The process allows voters to cast a straight-party ticket or to select candidates from different parties. The law also allows a third option: voting a straight ticket but deviating from the party line down-ballot.

Most residents vote a straight-party ticket, but a small percentage, as is their right, choose to cast mixed ballots. This is the hook on which Mr. Rossello is hanging his case. Commonwealth law clearly allows mixed voting, and this fact negates any need for federal judicial involvement. If Mr. Rossello would read his own campaign’s voter manuals, he’d read essentially the same thing.

Besides their beautiful tourist destination, Puerto Ricans knows a thing or two about holding elections. Their ballots are blessed with a wonderful simplicity often found lacking in elections. They use old-fashioned paper ballots, with spaces reserved for “Xs” next to the voter options. Each of these ballots is counted on election night by officials from all three political parties. The same process is established for recounts, leaving very little room for mistakes. Thankfully, there are no hanging chads, undercounts or overcounts. The ballot rules are consistent throughout the island, and their validity has never been questioned.

After the Commonwealth Supreme Court rejected Mr. Rossello’s arguments, U.S. District Judge Daniel Dominguez weighed in. Appointed by Bill Clinton at the suggestion of then-Gov.Rossello,Judge Dominguez was not even able to decide formally whether he had jurisdiction, despite hearing more than 70 hours of testimony. The case now sits in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, only one step away from the Supreme Court. It never should have left the island.

We should not be shocked at all of this. Mr. Rossello’s mode of operation is well known. As governor, his administration was a dark stain on the generally good-government record of Puerto Rico. Corruption was rampant and more than 40 cabinet members, aides, operatives and appointees are now in prison, have declared themselves guilty or have been indicted and are awaiting trial. This rogue’s gallery includes his former secretary of education, two former deputy chiefs of staff, his personalsecretary,acampaign manager, a pair of former secretarys general of his party as well as the house speaker.

The people of Puerto Rico are in danger of having this election taken away from them and handed to the lawyers. Mr. Acevedo-Vila won fair and square, is winning the ongoing recount, and has the law on his side.

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