Puerto Rico’s most recent plebiscite, held June 11, had a very clear outcome: 97% of voters chose statehood from the three options on the ballot.
However, the opposition parties had encouraged a boycott of the referendum and are now trying to discredit the vote, which had a low turnout.
In fact, the voting turnout percentage number is becoming a source of controversy.
The Puerto Rico State Commission on Elections initially reported that 518,199 voters came to the polls out of a total number of 2,260,804 possible voters, for a turn out percentage of 23%. The number of possible voters was determined by using voter turnout from the 2016 and 2012 elections, plus new registrants, in spite of the significant drop in population since 2012.
In a meeting, however, the Commission had previously indicated that there were 1,623,248 “effective active voters” for Sunday’s plebiscite, based on the 2016 vote alone. Using the “effective active voters” measure, voting participation was actually 32%. The infographic below shows the numbers presented at that meeting.*
On Tuesday, the State Elections Commission released the new data on “effective active voters.” The document is shown below.
The intention of the boycott was simply to discredit the plebiscite. Responding to criticism about a low turnout, election observer and former U.S. Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) explained: “The so-called boycott is a political posture whereby you can claim that the absence of votes is supporting you. This is dubious logic at best. If you want to oppose a position then you need to vote against it, otherwise you are consenting to having the other voters who do participate make that choice on your behalf. A boycott is essentially an admission to defeat as no one boycotts an election they could win.”
Yet some observers, including some members of Congress, are going along with the idea. For example, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) is said to have called the plebiscite a ”dog and pony show.” Puerto Rico Governor Rossello pointed out that Velazquez won her seat with just 4% of the vote.
Other Members saw the vote differently. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, (D-MD) said, “The voters who participated in Puerto Rico’s status referendum expressed an unambiguous desire to continue seeking a future in common with the United States as an equal member of our union. I hope Congress and the administration will listen to those voices and enable Puerto Rico to become the 51st state. Its people — already American citizens — deserve full and equal representation in the Congress and equal treatment by federal agencies.”
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) said, “I will always support equality through statehood for the 3.4 million American citizens that reside in Puerto Rico.” Asked about low turnout, she responded, “The ballot was fair and those who voted overwhelmingly chose statehood. In our democracy, only those who show up to vote get counted.”
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) tweeted that the results were “compelling.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) said simply, “Puerto Rico should be admitted as a state to the United States.”
Darren Soto (D-FL) and Don Young (R-AK) are reportedly working on a bill for Puerto Rico’s statehood. Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón introduced a statehood bill as her first matter of business when she arrived in Washington in January.
New York State Assembly Member Michael A. Blake released a statement confirming the overwhelming win for statehood and saying,”I commend all of the Puerto Rican men and women who participated in the democratic process and applaud them for standing up and voting for their beliefs.Now, it is Congress’ turn to listen to the Puerto Rican people. I urge the Republican Congress to respect the wishes of the Puerto Rican people and bring the issue of statehood up for a vote.”
Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico’s sole representative in the U.S.
House of Representatives and Chair of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico, released a statement saying, “Now is the time to transition the territory to equality from an undemocratic status that has dramatically limited the growth of the economy, helped cause a decade-long depression, and has forced millions Puerto Ricans to the mainland.”