SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Puerto Ricans frustrated by the island's economic crisis voted Sunday in the U.S. territory's Democratic presidential primary and local elections, as front-runner Hillary Clinton drew closer to securing the number of delegates needed to win her party's White House nomination.
After a blowout victory Saturday in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Clinton was just 60 delegates short of the 2,383 needed to win the Democratic nomination and advance to the November general election, according to an Associated Press count.
There were 60 pledged delegates at stake in Puerto Rico. Clinton would need to win more than 85 percent of the vote to get them all.
But voters' focus was mostly on the island's economic crisis.
Clinton and her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have visited Puerto Rico and pledged to help as the San Juan government tries to restructure $70 billion worth of public debt the governor has said is unpayable.
"This is one of the most important political moments for Puerto Rico," said Emanuel Rosado, a 29-year-old Clinton supporter and one of the first to arrive as a voting center opened. "I'm taking action as a result of the economic crisis."
Two weeks before the primary, Sanders criticized a rescue deal, negotiated by U.S. House leaders and the Obama administration, as having colonialist overtones.
In a letter to fellow Senate Democrats, Sanders said the House bill to create a federal control board and allow some restructuring of the territory's $70 billion debt would make "a terrible situation even worse."
"We won't have a voice or a vote in it," said Marcos Valdez, a 20-year-old university student and first-time voter who supports Sanders and opposes a control board. "It won't represent the interest of our people."
Clinton has said she has serious concerns about the board's powers, but believes the legislation should move forward, or "too many Puerto Ricans will continue to suffer."
Nearly 2.9 million people are registered to vote. Turnout was expected to be high given that Puerto Ricans also were narrowing down their choice for the next governor, as well as senators, representatives and mayors.
While they can participate in presidential primaries, Puerto Ricans do not vote in the November presidential election.
No matter, said former Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila. He supports Puerto Rico's current political status as a commonwealth and urged voters to participate in the primary.
"Many in the past and today think that these presidential primaries are a `sham' without consequences," he said. "But given the threat that comes from the North and the powerful allies it has here, not taking advantage of this `sham' to make our voice heard could be a precious wasted opportunity."
Among those voting was Democratic Party superdelegate Andres Lopez, one of the insiders who can vote for the candidate of their choice at the summer convention. He had remained uncommitted, but said Sunday he will support Clinton.
Clinton has 1,776 pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses; Sanders has 1,501. When including superdelegates, her lead over Sanders is substantial -- 2,323 to 1,547.
It takes 2,383 to win.
With Lopez's endorsement, all seven of Puerto Rico's superdelegates have pledged their support for Clinton.