In a referendum held on Sunday, 97% of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of becoming an official US state.
The catch: only 23% of the island’s population showed up to vote.
The non-binding referendum saw the lowest turnout of any election in Puerto Rico since 1967, but Governor Ricardo Rosselló of the island’s New Progressive Party insists Congress must consider it.
Rosselló argues that Puerto Ricans’ US citizenship is “second class” and believes the island’s status as a territory has contributed to its 10-year economic crisis.
“It will be up to this new generation of Puerto Ricans to demand and claim in Washington the end of the current improper colonial relationship, and begin a transition process to fully incorporate Puerto Rico as the next state of the Union,” said Rosselló.
“From today going forward, the federal government will no longer be able to ignore the voice of the majority of the American citizens in Puerto Rico.”
Sunday’s ballot included these three options:
• Remaining a commonwealth
• Becoming a state
• Entering free association/independence
The ballot was a revised version of an earlier ballot that left out the option of remaining a commonwealth and claimed that attaining statehood was “the only option” for Puerto Ricans to secure their citizenship status as Americans.
In a letter to Rosselló, the Department of Justice asked that the ballot be changed. The fiasco led many to boycott the vote, which in part explains the low voter turnout.
Nonetheless, Rosselló has vowed to personally visit DC to speak with Congress. He is currently in the process of selecting five representatives and two senators who will go to Washington to make the official request.
“It would be highly contradictory for Washington to demand democracy in other parts of the world, and not respond to the legitimate right to self-determination that was exercised today in the American territory of Puerto Rico,” said Rosselló.
President Donald Trump has suggested that he would be open to the idea of Puerto Rico becoming a state, but the final decision is up to Congress.
The last time Puerto Rico voted on statehood was in 2012; 61% of voters chose statehood. Opponents claimed voter turnout was too low to accurately reflect the will of the island’s population and Congress did not consider the vote as legitimate.
It looks like the same thing might happen again.
“Whoever claims that statehood triumphed is being intellectually dishonest,” said former Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla. “The boycott defeated statehood.”
Author’s Note: Sunday’s vote is non-binding and probably won’t be enough to proceed with the statehood process, but it does bring up some important questions.
Do we really want Puerto Rico to become a state? The island declared bankruptcy in May and could turn into a magnet for illegal aliens and drugs. In my opinion, Puerto Rico has a pretty good deal as it is: they are protected and assisted by the US, but are essentially independent.