Puerto Rico May Vote to Pursue Statehood
Do you support or oppose statehood for Puerto Rico?
by The 2020 Causes Voter Center | 10.29.20
What the Referendum Does
This plebiscite asks Puerto Rico voters whether or not the territory should seek statehood within the United States. Depending on how Puerto Ricans vote, a commission will be formed to explore its political future:
- If the “yes” side prevails, Puerto Rico’s governor would be responsible for appointing a seven-member commission to represent the government in negotiations and other activities related to the push for statehood. The commission would be tasked with creating a transition plan, which the governor could approve or reject, before the plan is submitted to Congress and the president.
- If the “no” side prevails, a seven-member commission would negotiate with the federal government about Puerto Rico’s free association with the U.S. or its outright independence.
Regardless of the outcome of this referendum, Congress isn’t obligated to take up legislation on the issue of Puerto Rico’s political status.
Argument In Favor
Puerto Rico should become a state so that its residents can enjoy the same benefits that Americans around the country receive, including voting representation in Congress. Statehood would bring stability and security from a variety of crises that have hurt Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico currently has second-class status, and because this referendum is non-binding there is no guarantee it brings about statehood even if it succeeds. Puerto Rico would be better served to pursue free association with the U.S. or outright independence instead of statehood.
Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon (PNP-R), Puerto Rico’s non-voting delegate to Congress, released the following statement in favor of statehood after the plebiscite was announced:
“All the crises that we have suffered during this four-year period, the two hurricanes, the earthquakes, COVID-19, and the fiscal crisis demonstrate the urgency for our people to achieve equality with the rest of the states. That is why we cannot wait any longer to receive from Washington the same treatment that is received in the rest of the nation. In unity there is strength, particularly in moments of collective crisis. There is no more time to lose.”
Puerto Rico House Speaker Johnny Méndez (PNP-R) said following the announcement of the vote that the “colonial situation” is the “great problem” and must be resolved before adding that, “We cannot put the house in order if the Puerto Rican people continue to be discriminated against in terms of federal aid.”
Puerto Rico Sen. Juan Dalmau (PIP), a candidate for Puerto Rico governor, urges a “no” vote because he supports independence for Puerto Rico:
“Puerto Ricans are not willing to give up being what we are. To the plebiscite question, do you want to give up your Puerto Rican nationality? The resounding answer will be ‘No!’”
Former Puerto Rico Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá (PPD-D) called for voters to oppose the plebiscite, calling it a non-binding boondoggle:
“This is another exercise in the misuse of public funds, added to the fact that said initiative is not binding, because nobody in Washington supports the initiative.”
Puerto Rico voters have weighed in on the issue of statehood over the years on four occasions:
- 1967 Referendum: Puerto Rico voters chose between commonwealth status (60.4%), statehood (39%), or independence (0.6%). Voter turnout was 65.9% amid a boycott by the Puerto Rico Statehood Republican Party, which prompted the formation of the New Progressive Party (PNP).
- 1998 Referendum: Puerto Rico voters chose between statehood (46.6%), independence (2.6%), free association (0.3%), territorial commonwealth (0.0%), and none of the above (50.5%). Voter turnout was 71.3%.
- 2012 Referendum: Puerto Rico voters were asked two questions: whether they agreed to continue Puerto Rico’s territorial status, and to choose between statehood, independence, or sovereign free association. On the first question, 54% voted “no” and opposed the current status versus 46% who voted in favor. On the second question, 61% voted for statehood, 33.3% voted for free association, and 5.5% voted for independence. Voter turnout was 78.2%. The results proved controversial as the governor-elect and pro-status quo politicians urged a boycott of the second question, which resulted in about one-fourth of voters only responding to the first question. A plan was formulated to convene a constituent assembly to resolve the debate, but it didn’t come to fruition.
- 2017 Referendum: Puerto Rico voters chose between statehood (97.2%), independence or free association (1.5%), and current territorial status (1.3%) in another controversial vote. Voter turnout was 22.93% amid a boycott by the pro-status quo PPD party.
The process for a territory to become a state under the U.S. Constitution requires the territory to adopt a constitutional, republican form of government and submit a petition to Congress seeking admission as a state. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have to pass legislation admitting the new state, which must be signed into law by the president.
Puerto Rico became an unincorporated U.S. territory at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917 and are allowed to serve in the U.S. military, but are unable to vote in federal elections and have no voting representation in Congress. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have expressed support for Puerto Rico’s self-determination on the issue.
Senate Democrats have suggested that if they gain unified control of government they may eliminate the Senate's 60 vote threshold (aka the legislative filibuster) to add more states to the Union, including Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / PeskyMonkey)
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