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Low turnout projected in Puerto Rico

From NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli
SAN JUAN, PR -- Election officials expect to see a low vote count -- perhaps just 400,000 out of nearly 3 million registered voters -- as the polls are about to close here. Such a number would be far lower than turnout usually is for local elections.

"Even though there is some enthusiasm, you cannot compare this with a general election in Puerto Rico," said Hector Luis Acevedo, the local representative of the Democratic Party and a former mayor of San Juan.

Acevedo says the primary was organized in just under 100 days, after the DNC approved a change to primary from the original caucus. He says there have been fewer problems with voting than expected, and that 15,000 poll workers are on duty at the 1,786 precincts.

Although he said the turnout will be higher than past presidential contests here, nothing would compare to the numbers seen in 1980, when the two local political parties stood behind separate candidates. The pro-statehood New Progressive Party endorsed Jimmy Carter, while the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party backed Ted Kennedy.

"This time, there are members of both parties involved in both campaigns. And that, in terms of message and organization, dilutes the grasp of the organization," Acevedo said.

Along those lines, Hillary Clinton has often referred to "bringing red and blue together," meaning the two parties. Kenneth McClintock, the Puerto Rico Senate president and co-chairman of her campaign, said that the local parties would not be working to get out the vote because there was no political benefit.

"The State Elections Commission has put very little advertising, contrary to what they usually do," he added. "We've had some factors against us."

Also, the much smaller Partido Independista, which advocates full independence for the island, is holding a public protest of the vote in San Juan today. It has discouraged followers from participating in the contest, since the Commonwealth does not have a vote in the general election.

McClintock, during an interview yesterday at a stop in Clinton's get-out-the-vote caravan, predicted Clinton would win by "a significant margin," and hoped the turnout would be significant enough to "push her into the majority of the popular vote (although counting the popular vote from a state that won't participate in the US general election might be a dubious exercise).

"It's been picking up speed," he said.

Acevedo and McClintock both said that even if local voters aren't as interested in the outcome, the attention that has been paid to Puerto Rico by the candidates, and the national press, will help the islands.

"The Puerto Rican voter and the Puerto Rican citizens will enjoy more benefits, more attention, more friends in the Senate of the United States no matter who wins," Acevedo said. "We will have more attention to our problems and to the solutions then we will have had if we not have this primary in Puerto Rico."