Puerto Ricans who voted for US statehood in a non-binding referendum Sunday are “claiming our equal rights as American citizens,” Puerto Rico’s governor says.
Ninety-seven percent of the votes favored statehood but voter participation was just 23% after opposition parties called for a boycott of what they called a “rigged” process in part over the ballot language.
Congress, the only body that can approve new states, will ultimately decide whether the status of the US commonwealth changes.
For Puerto Rico to become a US state, Congress would need to pass a statute laying out the transition process. If Congress does not pass a statute, Puerto Rico’s status will remain as it is.
Options on the weekend referendum included remaining a commonwealth, becoming a state or entering free association/independence. Free association is an official affiliation with the United States. Typically it would include Puerto Rico still receiving military assistance and funding but the ballot says the terms would be agreed upon by the two countries as sovereign nations.
But the ballot’s previous language prompted calls by opposition parties to boycott what they saw as a rigged vote.
Sunday’s ballot was a revised version after the Department of Justice wrote to Roselló in April saying the referendum ballot at the time incorrectly omitted Puerto Rico’s current commonwealth status as a ballot option, offering only statehood or free association/independence. The letter was published in the local newspaper El Vocero.
The previous ballot incorrectly claimed statehood was “the only option” for Puerto Ricans to secure their American citizenship. The DOJ in its letter pointed out that Puerto Ricans are US citizenship by birth, asking that the “potentially misleading” statement be removed.
The ballot was later changed to include “current territorial status” as an option, but the call for a boycott remained.
In 2012, around 1.8 million people voted — a turnout of 77.5% — but State Electoral Commission figures show that just 518,000 people (or 23% of eligible voters) voted in Sunday’s referendum. According to the commission’s numbers, 300,000 fewer people voted for statehood on Sunday than in 2012.
Rosselló contested the commission’s figures, telling CNN the electorate was 1.6 million — meaning turnout was 33%.
In a statement, the governor said that he would travel to the US capital to speak with Congress, the White House, and other agencies regarding the referendum results.
“We will now take these results to Washington, D.C., with the strong support of not only a duly executed electoral exercise, but also of a contingency of national and international observers, who can attest to the fact that the process was fair, well organized and democratic,” Rosselló said.
“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. 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,” he said.
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