From 1898 up until 2004, 31 elections have been held, the 2004 elections being the most recent, first of the 21st century, and the most controversial. During this period, organic (Foraker Law of 1900 and Jones Act of 1917) or constitutional (Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico) acts dictated the electoral process.
In addition, the 20th century introduces other legal texts that regulate the electoral processes. In 1912, Public Law 83 of March 14 was enacted to establish minority representation in the General Assembly. The minority representation principle, as we will see later on, was raised to constitutional status when the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was approved in 1952. This would make Puerto Rico the only country to safeguard representation by addition of minority parties when the majority party has secured 2/3 of the votes in both the House and Senate.
In 1928, legislation was approved to facilitate the filing of independent candidates aspiring for Congress. One year later, all literate men and women had the right to vote. Women were given the right to vote for the first time in 1932. In said elections, María Luisa Arcelay was elected to the House of Representatives for the 16th district of the municipality of Mayaguez, becoming the first woman in Congress. Four years later, María M. de Pérez Almiroty was the first woman to be elected Senator.
By 1936 universal suffrage was granted, and in 1947 the U.S. Congress authorized the Crawford-Butler Law, which allowed Puerto Ricans to elect its own Governor. By virtue of said law, Luis Muñoz Marín was elected Governor in the 1948 General Elections.
An amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico approved in 1970, lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. From 1972 on, young voters 18 years of age and up began to exercise their right to vote.
As previously seen, the right to participate in political processes broadened more and more, and the democratic tradition in Puerto Rico was strengthened to the point that, except for the 1900 elections (when voter turnout rate was 47.5 percent), the voter turnout rate during general elections has fluctuated between 64 percent and 92.84 percent. In 14 of those elections, the percentage of said rate had oscillated between 71.5 percent and 79.7 percent, while in 11 of them the voter turnout rate has exceeded the 80 percent mark. Thus, Puerto Rico is one of the places with a voluntary voting system with the highest voter turnout rate, far exceeding that of the U.S.
But not everything has been positive in the effort to expand democratic participation. During the 1936 registration process, as well as in 2004, fraud was so pervasive that the American Governor, General Blanton Winship, reported a suspicious discrepancy between the number of voters and working residents in various municipalities of the island.
The scandal generated by said report resulted in immediate action by the U.S. Congress, which approved a bill to establish a closed electoral college to correct the situation. The bill, presented by Senator Millar Tydings, was enacted by the Senate and forced our legislature to include the closed Electoral College section as part of the Electoral Law of Puerto Rico. The lasting effect of the bill was to remove fake names from electoral lists. This is why the voter turnout rate in the general elections of 1940 was lower than in 1936, registering a reduction of around 49,600 voters.
While evaluating the political processes of the 20th century, we can highlight two relatively long periods in which one political party controlled the elections and ruled the island virtually without opposition. The first period was from 1904 to 1920, controlled by the Union Party which was established and led by Luis Muñoz Rivera until his death in 1916. Then came his political heir Antonio R. Barceló, first president of the Senate, established in 1917 by virtue of the Jones Act of 1917. The second period started in 1940, with the triumph of the then recently established Popular Democratic Party led by Luis Muñoz Marín, who stayed in power until 1968. An important aspect of Muñoz's discourse was the successful eradication of the general tradition of selling political votes. Gradually, the Puerto Rican voter became aware of the value of a vote, understanding that through the conscious exercise of suffrage a citizen could determine who would get elected.
Under the terms of Public Law 600 of June 3, 1950, the Puerto Rican people were able to set forth the process of drafting the constitution of the Commonwealth to regulate the internal organization of the island's government. Elections were held on August 27, 1951, to designate members for the Constituent Assembly, and the Popular Democratic Party elected 70 delegates, the maximum allowed; the New Progressive Party chose 15; and the Socialist Party elected 7, for a grand total of 92 members. The Independence Party did not participate in the process for obvious reasons.
The inaugural session of the first Constituent Assembly was celebrated on September 17, 1951, and on February 21, 1952 Governor Muñoz Marín officially announced the approval, by the Constituent Convention, of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Consensus prevailed in this social and democratic process, as 88 out of 92 delegates voted in favor of the Constitution.
As for the democratic rights of Puerto Ricans bestowed by the Constitution, it's worth identifying, first, the Declaration of Rights; second, the elevation of minority representation to constitutional status, and the increase to 11 seats "at-large" in each legislative body; and last but not least, the creation of a Constitutional Board for electoral redistribution to take place every 10 years. This last resolution has ensured the continuous equality in the value of the citizen's vote. As of today, 5 Electoral Redistribution Boards have been held and unanimous consensus has been reached in 4 of them. It's noteworthy that the courts have never challenged the decisions taken by the Board.
Even though the status issue seemed to be solved as a result of the ratification of the Constitution, it is no less certain that Muñoz Marín, right after the Constitution's approval, initiated efforts to expand autonomy statutes granted to Puerto Rico to settle its own conflicts. To this day, however, all efforts to change the political relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States have fallen short. The Status Commissions of Puerto Rico and all lobbying efforts made in the U.S. Congress to modify the status quo, have systematically failed due to the reluctance of the American government to deal with the issue.
Status discussions, which Muñoz had removed from electoral debate with his "status is not a political issue" discourse, progressively ebbed. But today, with the prevailing political polarization and division among Puerto Ricans regarding such a fundamental issue is more apparent with each day that passes.
Such political schism, a product of the continuous alteration in power between the two main political parties, has obstructed the recognition of the good in past and present administrations, resulting in the lack of long-term vision and continuity in government projects, and the understanding that each time the political party in power changes, to a great extent, we must start from scratch.
However, within the partisan and ideological battle to obtain the governing power, the manifestation of an "intelligent vote" among voters is increasingly transpiring. The voter has moved away from bloc voting and almost 200,000 voters cross political lines when casting their ballots. An evident weakening of the traditional party structure has also added to this tendency.
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