SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – Puerto Rico’s two highest courts ordered election authorities in separate rulings Saturday to immediately begin recounting votes cast in the extremely tight Nov. 2 gubernatorial elections.

The recounts were ordered by the U.S. District Court and the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Dominguez decided in favor of pro-statehood candidate Pedro Rossello’s lawsuit to force an immediate recount of preliminary election results, which showed him narrowly losing to Anibal Acevedo Vila, who supports Puerto Rico maintaining its current status as a U.S. commonwealth.

The Supreme Court ruling came in a case filed by four private citizens.

The courts ordered the State Elections Commission to start recounting ballots immediately rather than wait for the outcome of a lengthy review of vote tallies from more than 7,000 precincts.

Election authorities were reviewing the tally sheets to confirm that Acevedo’s margin of victory was less than 0.5 percent, which would require a recount. The courts decided officials should check the tally sheets and conduct the recount simultaneously.

Preliminary results showed Acevedo, of the Popular Democratic party, received 48.38 percent of the votes while Rossello, a former governor from the New Progressive Party, received 48.18 percent.

The disputed election has further embittered Puerto Rican politics, already keenly divided over the issue of the territory’s status.

Rossello, governor in 1993-2000, pledged a new campaign to make Puerto Rico the 51st state by holding a referendum on statehood. That option was narrowly defeated in nonbinding votes he oversaw in 1993 and 1998.

Acevedo Vila, Puerto Rico’s outgoing nonvoting delegate to the U.S. Congress, helped lead the successful campaign to reject statehood in the 1998 referendum.

During the gubernatorial campaign, he harshly criticized Rossello for past corruption scandals.

The Supreme Court also ruled that thousands of disputed votes for Acevedo Vila should be counted as valid.

The dispute concerns ballots in which voters marked the symbol for the Independence Party and the space next to the names of Acevedo Vila and Roberto Prats, the Popular Democratic candidate for Puerto Rico’s nonvoting delegate to the U.S. Congress.

Acevedo Vila’s supporters argue that Puerto Rican electoral law allows citizens to cast “mixed votes” to support for keeping the Independence Party registered while also supporting candidates from other parties.

The federal court has not ruled on Rossello’s request to disregard those votes because, he argues, they make it impossible to discern voter intent. His attorney, William Sherman, claimed there could be as many as 20,000 “mixed votes.”


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