A majority of Puerto Rican citizens voted in favor of statehood Nov. 6 in a non-binding, plebiscite ballot that could propel the U.S. territory to become the country’s 51st state.
The first part of the popular vote-style ballot prompted voters to choose between pursuing a new relationship with the United States or maintaining their current status as a territory. The second part asked voters to pick from three status options: statehood, independence or a “sovereign free associated state.”
The last state to join the Union was Hawaii in 1959.
About 1.7 million Puerto Rican voters in 110 precincts answered the first part–54 percent voted “no” to maintaining the status quo, while about 46 percent voted “yes.”
A total of 1.3 million voters selected one of the three options, while almost half a million voters left the second part of the referendum blank.
Of the voters who completed the second part, it was reported that more than 60 percent voted for statehood, 5.5 percent voted in support of independence and 33.3 percent supported a sovereign free associated state.
This was the fourth time since 1967 Puerto Rico has held a vote on statehood.
The vote marked the first time eligible citizens were directly asked whether they want Puerto Rico to remain a territory, said Congressman Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in Washington, D.C., in a floor speech Wednesday.
“After this vote, the question is not whether, but when, Puerto Rico will cease to be a territory and will have a fully-democratic status,” said Pierluisi.
Pierluisi has begun the next step in adding Puerto Rico to the Union by initiating the discussion with Congress. Once ratified on Capitol Hill, it will proceed to the Executive Branch which will ultimately decide the outcome.
He has written two letters this past week, one to President Barack Obama and another to Congress regarding the results of the popular vote.
In his letter to President Barack Obama, Pierluisi asked the White House to “devote the necessary time, resources and–above all–leadership to help resolve the question of Puerto Rico’s political status.”
Meanwhile, concern has raised over Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño’s loss in Tuesday’s election. Supporters of statehood fear that the replacement of pro-statehood governor with pro-commonwealth Alejandro García Padilla will negate the vote results.
Padilla also wrote a letter to Obama, disputing the results of the plebiscite and determining that the people’s actual status preference is “indecipherable.”
Pro-statehood supporters argue that citizens of Puerto Rico deserve a voice as American citizens.
“The Island is home to 3.7 million American citizens who cannot vote for president, are not represented in the Senate, and elect one non-voting member to the House,” Pierluisi said.
Wendy Bonilla, a political science and sociology major at Cal State Fullerton, said she agrees with the pro-statehood idea of equal representation of Puerto Rico in U.S. government.
She said adopting Puerto Rico as the 51st state is a good idea since it is already a territory of the U.S.
“It’s important for Puerto Rico to gain statehood considering that its such a big territory for the country,” said Bonilla. “The people of Puerto Rico should have their votes recognized and have equal representation in government.”
CSUF President Mildred García is of Puerto Rican descent; she said she feels that the people who live on the island need to make a decision about their political status and she welcomes the idea of having Puerto Rico become the 51st state.
“The changing demographics for this country is very clear: Puerto Ricans have served the military well since the Spanish-American War and have served this country and produced wonderful citizens of this country,” said Garcia. “So if that’s the direction they want to go, I think the United States should embrace that.”