Puerto Rico’s “commonwealth” party-dominated legislature this week voted to provide Federal officials with different results of the territory’s political status plebiscite last November than were certified by the Puerto Rico Elections Commission — including by the Commission’s “commonwealth” party representative.
The resolution was opposed by statehood and independence party members of the legislature. It not only contradicts the official results of the plebiscite but the transmission of the results to the Federal government pursuant to insular law.
According to the Elections Commission and Puerto Rico law, the plebiscite vote rejected the current territory status, popularly, but misleadingly, known as “commonwealth,” by 53.97% and chose statehood among the possible alternatives by 61.16%.
The plebiscite was held in conjunction with the territory’s quadrennial elections for office. “Commonwealth” party gubernatorial candidate Alejandro Garcia Padilla very narrowly edged out the statehood party incumbent and others in the elections. ‘Commonwealthers’ also took majorities in Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly away from statehooders.
The resolution asserts that the islands’ current status was only rejected by 51.7% of the vote and was supported by 44.1%.
It also contends that:
• statehood won 44.4% of the vote — instead of 61.16%;
• nationhood in a free association with the U.S. (Sovereign Free Associated State) obtained 24.3% — instead of the official 33.34%; and
• independence received four percent — instead of the official 5.49%.
The resolution attempts to revise history by arguing that 3.6% of voters in the election did not choose whether territory status should continue and 26.5% did not choose an alternative to territory status. It assigns percentages of the ‘vote’ to votes not cast, contrary to Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission, Puerto Rico election law and the law for the plebiscite, and general election law practice.
Tuesday, Garcia made clear that he was a part of the effort to change the results of the plebiscite. He said that statehood won 44% of the vote among the alternatives to territory status and saying that it won the 61.16% that the Elections Commission certified was a “lie” that “we will unmask” to Federal officials.
The resolution and Garcia’s comments were clearly aimed at undermining a bill that dozens of members of the U.S. House of Representatives are introducing in the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday. The bill recognizes the real results of the plebiscite, provides for a referendum on statehood, and commits Congress and the President to act on granting statehood to Puerto Rico if statehood wins a majority.
Garcia and the “commonwealth” party lost the plebiscite’s question on the continuation of the territory status, having urged votes in favor of continuation. The Puerto Rico legislature resolution tries to explain the loss by alleging that the current status was “described disparagingly” on the plebiscite ballot, echoing a claim Garcia has made.
The alleged disparaging description asked whether the “present form of territorial status” should continue. Garcia and the “commonwealth” party generally contend that Puerto Rico is not a territory.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has found that Puerto Rico remains subject to congressional authority under the Territory Clause of the U.S. Constitution. This is also the position of successive Federal administrations of both national political parties and congressional authorities under both national political parties.
President Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status has declared that Puerto Rico would have to remain subject to Federal Territory Clause governing authority under any “commonwealth” arrangement.
In addition to arguing that the plebiscite did not recognize the current status’ “true” — meaning non-territory — “characteristics”, the resolution also contended that the vote did not recognize “commonwealth’s development potential.”
The “commonwealth” party asserts that this potential is for the Federal government to permanently cede to Puerto Rico powers to veto the application of Federal laws and limit Federal court jurisdiction and to enter into international agreements and organizations as if Puerto Rico were a sovereign nation. Additionally, the alleged development potential of “commonwealth” would provide Puerto Rico with more economic benefits than at present as well as continue most current benefits.
Garcia’s Washington office director said this week that “the majority of Puerto Ricans have consistently spoken out in favor of developing the Commonwealth” — which is contrary to the results of status plebiscites that Puerto Rico held in 1993 and 1998 as well as last year but is true of a vote held in 1967.
The new “commonwealth status” proposed then was subsequently rejected by a Democratic Congress and by President Ford.
Federal officials and congressional leaders during the Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama Administrations have similarly said that the current “commonwealth” proposal is impossible for constitutional and other reasons.
The legislature resolution also contended that the plebiscite was “criticized by the White House.” In fact, a spokesman for President Obama congratulated Puerto Ricans on the plebiscite, stated that its results were clear, and said that Puerto Ricans demonstrated in the vote that they want to resolve the status issue with statehood winning a majority among the alternatives to the current status.
The results of Puerto Rico’s status plebiscite last November are historical fact. The vote of the people cannot be changed by statements of Puerto Rico’s legislature or governor. Puerto Rico’s rejection of territory status (“commonwealth”) and petition for statehood can only be changed by another vote of its people.