Government / Brief history of elections in Puerto Rico
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Governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro García Padilla

The history of public elections in Puerto Rico begins in the 19th century when the Spanish supreme governing council declared its overseas possessions to be provinces. The first elections to select deputies to the Spanish Cortes took place in 1809. The candidates belonged to two political movements: the unconditionals (who favored the Spanish regime) and the liberals (who sought greater freedom and rights for those on the island). The elections did not always take place during the first half of the 19th century. The struggles between the absolute monarchy and the republic or constitutional regime in Spain had a bearing on this pattern of irregularity.

In the second half of the 19th century, political parties were formally constituted in Puerto Rico. In 1869 the Conservative Party was formed and in1870 the Liberal Reformist Party was formed. These parties underwent transformations and formed alliances in order to win the elections to choose their representatives for the Spanish Cortes, while the governors were named by the crown. By 1897, the Puerto Rican Autonomist Party had become the Liberal Reformist Party and the Conservative Party split apart, leading to the formation of the Orthodox (or Pure) Autonomist Party.

With the arrival of the United States in 1898, the political parties experienced changes under the new realities. The first elections under the United States military government in 1899 were held to elect municipal officials. The opposing parties at the time were the American Federal Party and the Republican Party. With the establishment of the Foraker ActForaker Act: Also known as the Organic Act of 1900, it is a United States federal law that authorized the establishment of a civilian government in Puerto Rico. in 1900, the House of Delegates and the resident commissioner position in Washington were created. As a result of the law, Puerto Rican males over 21 years of age who owned property, paid taxes and knew how to read and write had the right to vote every two years for the 35 members who constituted the legislative assembly, five members for each of the seven electoral districts into which the United States government divided the island. The other members of the government, including the executive council, were appointed by a governor designated by the president of the United States, who also ratified the governor’s appointments of those public officials.

The first elections under the United States civil government in 1900, between the Puerto Rican Republican Party and the American Federal Party, were won by the Republicans as the Federalists abstained from participating in the vote as a protest. In 1904, the Federal Party became the Puerto Rico Union Party with a liberal platform. In 1914, the Socialist Party was created and associated with the American Federation of Labor, a labor union in the United States. This party had existed previously as the Socialist Workers Party, although it had not appeared in the elections until 1917. In 1912, the short-lived Party for the Independence of the Island of Puerto Rico was formed. In 1922, the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party was born, a party that mainly proposed armed struggle to achieve freedom.
In 1917, the first elections were held under the Jones ActJones Act: Legislation approved in 1917 by President Woodrow Wilson, granting United States citizenship to Puerto Ricans. It also provided for the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, created a bicameral legislature, and granted civil rights to citizens., and since 1920, elections have been held every four years, coinciding with the presidential elections in the United States. Previously, they had been held every two years.

In 1922, the electoral law was amended to allow parties to form alliances and to allow mixed candidacies. In other words, a member of one political party could be a candidate, for example, for another party through means of an alliance. The amendment avoided the constant re-formation of parties who lost their legal standing by allying themselves with another party to win an election, contrary to the traditional coalitions of the 19th century, in which the parties retained their identities.

During these decades, the parties participating in the elections included the Union, Puerto Rican Republican and Socialist Parties. The Union Party dominated the political scene for twenty years.
The elections of 1932 saw the participation of the recently created Puerto Rican Liberal Party, which arose when a group split from the Puerto Rico Union Party, the Nationalist Party (that election being one of the few in which the organization participated), the Republican Union Party and the Socialist Party. This election was the first to take place after women’s suffrage was approved in late 1928, so the votes of women who could read and write were counted.

Just like during the second fifty years of the 19th century, the new political parties of the first half of the 20th century formed alliances to win elections. In 1938, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD for its initials in Spanish) was born from the old Puerto Rican Liberal Party and the Unionist Party. The PPD remained in power for the following five consecutive elections. In 1968, it lost the elections to the New Progressive Party (PNP for its initials in Spanish), which was founded in 1967 from the ranks of the old Republican Party, the Puerto Rican Statehood Party (founded in 1936) and the Organization of United Statehooders.

During the second half of the 20th century, other parties have entered and left the electoral ring. The Christian Action Party (PAC for its initials in Spanish) in 1960; the Party of the People (PP) in 1968; the Puerto Rican Union Party (PUP) in 1972; the Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP) in 1976 and 1980; the Puerto Rican Renovation Party (PRP) in 1984; and the recently formed Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party (PPR) in 2008, and more recently, in 2012, the Working People's Party (PPT for its initials in Spanish) and the Sovereign Union Movement (MUS for its initials in Spanish).

From 1948 to today, Puerto Ricans have voted 17 times to elect their governing officials. They elect their governor, legislators, mayors, their respective municipal assemblies, and the resident commissioner who represents them in Washington. In the general elections that have taken place since 1968, the two main parties, the PPD and the PNP, have alternated in power.

Since 1952, the divisions of senatorial districts that make up the Puerto Rican Legislature have been modified on various occasions. Currently, the island is divided into eight senatorial districts and forty representative districts. There are five representative districts within each senatorial district.

In the 2012 elections, six party platforms were presented to the voters. The Popular Democratic, New Progressive, Independence, Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico, Working People's and Sovereign Union Movement parties campaigned for votes. Alejandro García Padilla (PPD) was elected Governor by 47.7 percent of the votes. The Popular Democratic Party represents the majority in other levels of elected offices, such as: mayors (47 out of 78 municipalities), as well as the eight Senate districts. Eduardo Bhatia and Jaime Perelló were elected Presidents of the Legislative Assembly: Senate and House of Representative, respectively.

To see the results of the past elections (2012) click here.

To see the results of the 2008 elections click here.

Note: These articles have been edited and checked by academics and specialists in History. Discrepancies may exist among historians regarding some data.

Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 04, 2014.

Version: 09012602 Rev. 1
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