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Puerto Rico’s Ballot Boycott

A number of “commonwealth” and independence supporters have announced their intention to ask their supporters to boycott the June 2017 vote on Puerto Rico’s political status.

Governor Rossello responded to the U.S. Department of Justice’s objections to the original ballot by making a series of changes:

  • The current territorial status is included among the options voters can choose.
  • The statehood option is defined as a vote “to immediately begin the process for the decolonization of Puerto Rico and the admission of Puerto Rico as a state of the union of the United States of America.”
  • The free association option is clarified by the phrase, “free association is complete and total independence.”

The update was delivered to the Department of Justice, which as of this writing has not responded.

Rossello announced that the opposition parties no longer have “excuses” to boycott the vote.

The organizations that have called for a boycott include:

  • Puerto Rico’s Independence Party (PIP)
  • former independent candidate for governor Alexandra Lúgaro
  • the Democratic Popular Party
  • the Worker People’s Party,
  • the Sovereignty Union Movement
  • the New National Hostosiano Pro Independence Movement
  • the pro sovereignty wing of the “Commonwealth” Party (PPD)

These organizations counted together still make up a small proportion of Puerto Rico’s voters. Their chances of winning the plebiscite are small regardless of the options on the ballot, so they may simply have chosen to try to discredit the vote instead.

However, there is a tradition in Puerto Rico of boycotting plebiscites as a protest. The 2017 ballot includes “instructions to the voter” which specify, in accordance with standard voting procedures in the United States, that “[a]ll ballots not voted and/or wrongly voted will not be accounted in the official results certified by the State Elections Commission, according to the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico.”

The “Commonwealth” party, having seen a clear statement from the U.S. Department of Justice that “enhanced commonwealth” is not an option and that a vote for the current status will be a vote for continuing as a territory, apparently plans to call for a boycott, count any voters who fail to show up at the plebiscite as votes for the “commonwealth,” and attempt to discredit the results of the vote.

Asked why ELA (a “commonwealth” option with its hope of a future “enhanced commonwealth”) is not on the ballot, Rossello explained that “It doesn’t exist.”

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