ACLU pushes back against Puerto Rico proposal to move voting online

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) this week strongly pushed back against a proposal in Puerto Rico that would move voting online, citing concerns over the increased ability for votes to be changed or interfered with through hacking.

Lawyers for the ACLU and for the ACLU of Puerto Rico wrote a letter to Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced on Wednesday urging her to veto the proposed “Puerto Rico Electoral Code of 2019,” which would move all voting Puerto Rico to internet-based platforms by 2028.

“This measure is misguided, dangerous, and will needlessly expose Puerto Rico’s voting system to hacking and disruption,” ACLU attorneys Mayte Bayolo-Alonso and Adriel Cepeda Derieux wrote. “In Puerto Rico’s currently charged climate, such disruption will only result in greater public mistrust of key democratic institutions. A veto is imperative.”

The text of the measure, as translated from Spanish, states the proposal is meant to “empower voters by facilitating their access to processes related to the exercise of their right to vote,” and would take multiple steps to revamp the voting process in Puerto Rico, such as restructuring the main election commission. 

Should the proposal become law, online voting would be phased in, being used for primaries in 2024, and then allowing the electoral commission to decide whether to allow all voting in Puerto Rico to be online from 2028 onward. 

According to NPR, the proposal is expected to pass this week, though the lawyers wrote in their letter to Vázquez Garced that they were “encouraged” by recent statements made by the governor in which she promised not to sign the bill into law unless there is “consensus in its favor.” 

The ACLU lawyers described the measures in the proposed law as “ill-advised,” and said they would “expose Puerto Rico’s voting system to hacking and other online threats,” particularly pointing to the inability for vote counts to be 100 percent guaranteed accurate due to cybersecurity concerns.

Beyond cyber concerns involved with online voting, the ACLU lawyers raised concerns about whether all Puerto Rican communities would have access to the internet to vote, particularly in light of the devastation suffered by Puerto Rico during recent natural disasters.

“Hurricane María and recent earthquakes along the southern coast have made clear that the island’s infrastructure—particularly, electrical power systems essential to internet access—remains precarious; it would be reckless to trust all voting systems to its well-being,” the lawyers wrote.


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