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Voters in Puerto Rico go to the polls next Sunday, August 19, 2012, to cast ballots in a constitutional amendments referendum, concerning the Legislative Assembly's number of members and the right to bail.
The constitutional amendment on the Legislative Assembly's number of members proposes a reduction of the number of senators from 27 to 17, and the number of representatives from 51 to 39, starting in 2016. The number of Senate districts would be increased from eight to eleven, but each Senate district would elect one senator, instead of two. In addition, each Senate district would include three House of Representatives districts (instead of five), for a total of 33 House districts; each House district would continue to elect one representative. Moreover, the number of at-large seats in each House would be reduced from eleven to six. Likewise, the minority party representation cap would be reduced from nine to six seats in the Senate, and from 17 to 13 seats in the House of Representatives.
While the current Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly electoral system would be essentially retained under the proposed amendment, the reduction of legislative at-large seats would almost double the number of votes needed to secure one of the aforementioned mandates in either legislative body.
Meanwhile, under the constitutional amendment on the right to bail, every person accused of a crime would have the right to remain free on bail before being convicted except in the case of: people accused of murder with premeditation, deliberation or stalking; those accused of murder committed in the course of a home robbery; those accused of murder in the midst of a sexual assault or kidnapping; those accused of murder while firing a firearm from a motor vehicle or in a public open place, while endangering the lives of more than one person; or when the murder victim is an officer of the law in the line of duty. In these cases the judge would have the discretion to grant or deny the right to bail, after evaluating if the accused is at flight risk, at risk of destroying evidence or putting the safety of other people or the community at risk.
Puerto Rican voters had previously rejected limiting the right to bail, in a 1994 referendum.
The proposed constitutional amendments have the full backing of the ruling New Progressive Party (PNP), while the Island's four smaller parties (as well as diverse civic and religious organizations) are opposing them. Meanwhile, the main opposition party, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), has not officially taken sides, leaving its members free to vote as they believe best. Some PPD leaders are against the proposed amendments, but others favor them, most notably among the latter the party's gubernatorial candidate, Senator Alejandro García-Padilla - who had nonetheless voted against the referendum enabling laws in the Legislature.
According to a poll published by San Juan newsdaily El Nuevo Día, voters will support both amendments by wide margins (76% in favor of reducing the number of legislators, and 59% in favor of limiting bail). Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that in the last three referendums held in Puerto Rico (in 1991, 1994 and 2005), poll forecasts proved to be completely wrong, and while it's possible that things may be different this time around, the precedent suggests that this year's predictions should be taken with some caution.
Puerto Rican voters rejected by a wide margin the proposed constitutional amendments on legislative reform and limiting the right to bail in the referendum held on Sunday, August 19, 2012; Elections in Puerto Rico has detailed referendum results here.
Once more, the referendum outcome contradicted opinion poll forecasts.