Voters nix bail, legislature changes
The “no” option held solid leads in both the bail limits and legislative reform referendums as the vote count continued through Sunday night and into Monday morning. The State Elections Commission count was opened after polling stations closed at 3 p.m. The count of the first ballot boxes showed “no” off to a strong lead, with that gap closing and then widening again as more votes came in.
With 99.7 percent of the count completed after midnight, the “no” votes finished with a roughly 55 percent to 45 percent edge on the bail issue, and came out ahead by a ratio of 54.2 percent to 45.7 percent on the legislative reform side of balloting.
Nearly 806,000 of 2.3 million registered voters took part.
It was the second time Puerto Ricans have said no to changing the right to bail. Fifty-four percent of voters in a 1994 referendum rejected a proposal that would have allowed judges to withhold bail in any case, regardless of the crime charged.
The gubernatorial candidates from Puerto Rico’s two main political parties – New Progressive Party Gov. Luis Fortuño and Popular Democratic Party hopeful Alejandro García Padilla – both voted in favor on both sides of the ballot. The other four candidates opposed the measures.
The “yes” options were heavily pushed in ad campaigns funded by the NPP, but “no” supporters took their lobbying to the streets and online, potentially marking the first time social media has played a key role in a local election outcome.
The referendum questions called for shrinking the local legislature by almost 30 percent as part of a cost-saving measure and allowing judges to deny bail in certain murder cases. Puerto Rico is currently the only place in the Western Hemisphere where everyone is entitled to bail regardless of the alleged crime.
NPP campaign director Angel Cintrón appeared set to concede the “no” win before 7 p.m.
“It is not what we hoped for,” Cintrón said. “It is different than our projections and we have to recognize that.”
The results mean Puerto Rico will remain the only place in the Western Hemisphere where everyone is entitled to bail regardless of the alleged crime.
Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz said that he accepted the defeat and that he respects the will of the people.
Political analyst Luis Dávila Colón said via Twitter “that many in the NPP are very mad at Fortuño, and they showed it.”
By 7:30 p.m., Fortuño had accepted the “no” win.
“This was always about doing what is right,” Fortuño said at the Basta Ya headquarters. “This wasn’t about a political party or an administration.”
He congratulated voters for turning out.
“I thank all those who participated. We aren’t going to take a step back. We are going to move forward, outside partisan lines so all can be part of the solution,” Fortuño said.
“This would have been a great tool to fight crime,” the governor said as he thanked the families of victims who supported the measure.
García Padilla sought to characterize the vote results as a referendum on Fortuño and Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi.
“With the distraction that the NPP wanted behind us, we are going to do what we set out to do – win the November elections,” he said.
García Padilla, who is a freshman senator and the PDP president, had rankled many commonwealth party members with his announcement weeks ago that he would vote in favor of the bail amendment. Two powerful former PDP governors — Rafael Hernández Colón and Sila Calderón — also voiced their support for the bail amendment, while former Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá voted “no” to both amendments.
Puerto Rican Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Juan Dalmau called the referendum results as “moral defeats” for both Fortuño and García Padilla.
“It is a time to celebrate because the people have saved our constitution and our rights,” said Arturo Hernández, gubernatorial candidate for the Sovereign Union Movement, one of the island’s minority parties.
Voter turnout of around 35 percent was far higher than the July 2005 referendum on cutting the Legislature back to a single chamber. In 2005, the proposed change to a unicameral model was picked by nearly 84 percent of those voting, but only 22.5 percent of registered voters turned out at the polls. A bill that would have cleared the way for a referendum on a constitutional amendment to make the change was killed in the New Progressive Party-controlled Capitol.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.