Elections in Puerto Rico Celebrates Sixteen Years on the Internet

Home ]  [ Español ]

Elections in Puerto Rico, the first Internet website dedicated to studying the Island's election processes, was launched on July 30, 1995 from my personal space at the University of Pittsburgh - where I worked at the time - with statistics from the 1992 general election, the 1993 status plebiscite, and the 1994 referendum on amendments to the Constitution of Puerto Rico, in addition to reference materials about the Puerto Rican electoral process.

The publication of this site, developed on my spare time and without any kind of budget, was announced on USENET - in soc.culture.puerto-rico - on the day of its launching. Two days later, Zeydy Ortiz-Laureano, at the time editor of the Puerto Rico FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), sent me an e-mail message to inform me that she wished to mention my site on her on-line publication, which I immediately agreed to: this distinction allowed parties interested in the subject to know about the existence of the site.

In fact, when I began developing this site in 1995, there was no Puerto Rico election data available on the Internet: although the Commonwealth Elections Commission of Puerto Rico (CEE) had broadcast the results of the 1993 status plebiscite and the 1994 referendum over the University of Puerto Rico-managed BORIKEN electronic mailing list, these had been temporary arrangements, limited to the dissemination of election results to the list's subscribers on the night of these events. Until the inauguration of La Fortaleza's (the governor's residence) official site in early 1996, there were no Puerto Rico government websites: the Commonwealth Elections Commission would not have a permanent presence on the Internet until October 1996, when a private company set up a website on behalf of the agency.

In the meantime, I continued to work on this site, which began to be published in both English and Spanish in August 1995. In late 1995 and early 1996, the site was substantially expanded with the publication of an archive of past election results.

Starting with the 1996 general election, the Commonwealth Elections Commission began to furnish me a substantial amount of election materials for publication on this site. This way, I was able to publish on this site the complete results of the 1996 general election, and also expand other sections of the site. Later on, in May 1998, I developed the election maps presentation.

In recognition to the contribution made by this site to the on-line dissemination of detailed information about Puerto Rico's election processes, the then-Chairman of the Commonwealth Elections Commission honored me with an invitation to observe the December 13, 1998 status plebiscite vote, as well as to participate - directly from the Commission's operations center in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico - in the transmission over the Internet of the vote results, which were available on this site beginning at 5:00 PM AST on the day of the event.

The year 1999 brought significant changes to Elections in Puerto Rico. In April, it moved to its own address, at ElectionsPuertoRico.org and EleccionesPuertoRico.org, which allowed a comprehensive reorganization of the site, and later on, in May, the institution of the election results lookup system. These improvements simplified access to the vast amount of materials available here, which were expanded in September with the addition of the full Spanish-language text of the Puerto Rico Election Law.

In November 1999, the Commonwealth Elections Commission hired me to develop the agency's official website. I returned to Puerto Rico to work at the Commission, where from 2000 to 2003 I continued in an official capacity the work started here sixteen years ago. While I continued to publish this website during the years I worked for the Commission, some sections originally instituted here, such as the election results lookup system, were reproduced (with slight modifications) on the agency's website.

The Sunday, February 9, 2003, edition of the (Spanish-language) newspaper El Nuevo Día featured a full-page article about my work on the Commission's site (as well as on this site), under the title "Deslumbra el sitio virtual de la CEE" ("Dazzling CEE virtual site"), but I resigned as Project Manager for the Commonwealth Elections Commission later that year. Although there was a proposal that entailed continuing as the agency's Webmaster (to which I had not resigned), nothing came out of it, and since then many of the innovations I introduced on the agency's website have been either abandoned or continued only sporadically, which has brought about strong criticism from some news media outlets. For example, in the first half of 2004 the team of programmers in charge of the Commission's main website since mid-2003 - a job I used to do all by myself - neglected to update master file summary and age and gender voter registration statistics. This situation persisted until it was denounced in Radio Isla 1320's well known political analysis program Fuego Cruzado ("Crossfire"). In a matter of days the updated statistics were published on the Commission's website. However, after the 2004 general election those figures were not updated on the agency's website until the 2008 election cycle; no updates were published for the July 10, 2005 referendum, and there have been no further updates following the 2008 general election.

In fact, following the 2005 referendum, on the July 11, 2005 edition of Fuego Cruzado, one of the program's regular analysts, Mr. Adolfo Krans, criticized (among other things) the Commission's main website presentation, which according to him showed "lack of supervision at certain levels". In the systems area, Mr. Krans felt the Commission should have published:

"...an aggressive, ambitious site that must be directed at a given moment towards concentrating information for voters. That is, there's historical data there that if you have to minimize for the moment and take it out to give more, more agility to the site, you can do it. That is, there is...there is an absence of agility that ought to be looked at, ought to be looked at."

I may add that I received comments from visitors to Elections in Puerto Rico who let me know that they came to my site because they could not find the information they were looking for at the Commission's website: in some cases the information was available there as well, but often it was difficult to find it; the Commission subsequently added an external search function to its main website, without addressing its design and content deficiencies. Unfortunately, the Commision's website has increasingly focused on bureaucratic-administrative matters - such as the agency's day-care center - which are important to some CEE employees, but completely irrelevant to the general public.

By the way, I refer to the Commission's main website because since mid-2003 two private companies (one of them from the Dominican Republic) have developed the election night and canvass (or recount) Web presentations for major election events, such as the 2003 and 2008 local primaries, the 2004 and 2008 general elections and the 2005 referendum, which are published on separate servers. Incidentally, these presentations have had their own problems as well: for example, both in 2003 and in 2004 these crashed early on election night, remaining practically inaccessible until well into the following day, leaving Internet users without access to extremely important information about the results of these transcendental election events. As if that were not enough, from 2007 to 2008 the server used to publish results of the events held from 2003 to 2005 was offline, effectively crippling the agency's website. Moreover, since 2003 there have been no updates to the modified versions of the election results lookup systems I originally developed and published here.

Given the existing dissatisfaction with the CEE's website, I have decided to continue developing this site. In the summer of 2004, I redesigned Elections in Puerto Rico to institute a new presentation style on this site, based on the design I originally introduced in 2002 for Election Resources on the Internet / Recursos Electorales en la Internet. Later on I published here a comparison of voter registration statistics for the 2004 general election versus the 2000 general election. This site was the first to report a decline in the total number of registered voters with respect to the 2000 election - a fact the Commonwealth Elections Commission had to acknowledge almost immediately. I should note as well that El Nuevo Día reprinted with my authorization both the text of the voter registration statistics comparative analysis as well as materials from the 2002 Senate and House districts reapportionment section in a "¡Cómo Votar!" ("How to Vote!") supplement published on Saturday, October 30, 2004.

For the 2004 election I also published maps of precincts assigned to at-large legislative candidates. Interestingly, as a result of this publication in 2004 several errors surfaced in the sample ballots issued by the Commonwealth Elections Commission, which had not been detected by the agency up to that point.

As in 2004, for the 2008 election I published a comparison of voter registration statistics with those for the preceding general election, as well as maps of precincts assigned to at-large legislative candidates; I also published an overview of the Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly electoral system. The analysis of voter registration statistics was quoted by El Nuevo Día on its Sunday, October 26, 2008 edition, as it revealed a further decline in Puerto Rico's voter registration rate, and contradicted statements made by CEE officials, who had sought to present the small increase in the absolute number of registered voters as a huge success.

Following the availability in March 2011 of detailed Puerto Rico population statistics according to the 2010 Census, I published on this website a proposal for senatorial reapportionment with only two changes, which I developed in collaboration with Dr. Fernando Bayrón-Toro. I originally prepared said proposal merely to show it was possible to carry out a senatorial reapportionment with minimal changes. However, the idea caught the attention of the Constitutional Board for the Revision of Senatorial and Representative Electoral Districts, and in May 2011 Dr. Bayrón-Toro promoted the proposal in public hearings held by the Board. In addition, our proposed electoral reapportionment was featured on the Monday, May 9, 2011 edition of El Nuevo Día, and more importantly, the senatorial reapportionment unanimously agreed upon by the Board in June 2011 turned out to be almost identical to the one proposed on this website three months earlier.

Although Elections in Puerto Rico cannot be a substitute of the Commonwealth Elections Commission's website - as set forth by the Puerto Rico Electoral Code, one of the duties of the Chairman of the Commission is educating and informing the Puerto Rican elector and the political parties with regard to their rights and obligations, for which purpose he may use all available communications media and public information techniques, among them the Internet - this site houses a significant amount of materials that are not available anywhere else on the Web. Therefore, I have continued publishing it as a personal contribution I am making as a non-profit, free public service for the benefit of the people of Puerto Rico as well as mankind in general.

Manuel Álvarez-Rivera
July 26, 2011