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PuertoRicoWOW News Service

Pieras Issues Final Opinion On Presidential Vote

by Proviana Colon Diaz

August 30, 2000
Copyright © 2000 PuertoRicoWOW News Service. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN — 08/30/00 - U.S. District Court Judge Jaime Pieras issued a final opinion and order Tuesday stating that U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico have the right to vote in presidential elections and their electoral votes must be counted.

Pieras ordered the local government to enable a voting mechanism for the upcoming Nov. 7 general elections.

Tuesday's final judgment reinforces Pieras' July 19 preliminary ruling stating that a group of 11 plaintiffs from Aguadilla, who are U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico, cannot be denied the right to vote for president.

In his 34-page ruling, Pieras argued that the fact that Puerto Rico is a territory has nothing to do with the citizens' right to vote.

Pieras said the 24th and 26th amendments of the U.S. Constitution "support that the right to participate in presidential elections is not a function of State residence, but rather of individual right of citizenship."

Pieras' ruling was issued exactly one day after legislative hearings concluded on a bill filed by Senate President Charlie Rodriguez and House Speaker Edison Misla Aldarondo to enable the presidential vote.

Not surprisingly, the ruling received the same reactions, along party lines, as the bill.

Gov. Pedro Rossello, who asked to be included as part of the plaintiffs in the case in his official capacity as "the Government of Puerto Rico," was pleased with Pieras' final judgment.

"I'm happy with judge Pieras' final judgment. It reinforces the process being carried out by the Legislature to enable a mechanism for the voting, expression and counting of the presidential vote issued by Puerto Ricans who are American citizens," Rossello told The Associated Press during a Tuesday activity in Guaynabo.

The bill is being evaluated by the New Progressive Party (NPP)-dominated Legislature. Tuesday afternoon, the chairmen of the House and Senate committees who are overseeing the measure could not be more pleased with the ruling.

Sen. Kenneth McClintock, who chairs the Senate Federal Affairs Committee, said the decision is not only important because it forces the local government to enable to presidential vote process but because it forces the U.S. Congress to count the electoral votes.

Quoting Pieras, McClintock said: "Clearly, if Congress decided not to count the votes from Tennessee or Texas, such omission would not be without judicial review and the validity of the election would certainly be constitutionally questionable."

For his part, Rep. Edwin Mundo, who chairs the House Government Committee, said the issue is no longer about the wishes of the Legislature but a court order stating that the 4 million Puerto Ricans have the right to vote for president.

But Pieras' ruling was not lauded by all island sectors, especially the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), which opposed the legislation.

PDP Vice President Anibal Acevedo Vila acknowledged he was not surprised by Pieras' ruling but said he was confident that the U.S. government would appeal the new ruling to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, which would then revoke the ruling.

Although he acknowledged that courts can revoke prior decisions, Acevedo Vila said the 1996 ruling by 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Juan Torruellas, which was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, will prevail.

In a case filed by the same defendant as in Pieras' ruling, Aguadilla resident Gregorio Igartua, Torruellas ruled that "only citizens residing in states can vote for electors and thereby indirectly for the president."

Acevedo Vila's position was rebutted by McClintock, who argued that since this is a different case, the appeals court would have to go into the "merits of the new case."

A ruling by the appeals court is not expected to be issued prior to Nov. 7, the day of the general elections.

Still, Acevedo Vila said the ruling could come before Dec. 18 when the electoral votes are to be counted, by which time his theory of the voting being "a futile effort" would be proven.

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