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Focus on Voters’ Rights Skips Puerto Rico

Congress is putting a lot of energy into voting rights. Yet the legally certified, democratic vote conducted in Puerto Rico in November 2020 is being ignored.

Voters’ rights

Following the dramatic 2020 election, state legislatures across the country are introducing changes to their election procedures.

Both New York and New Jersey are implementing automatic voter registration laws. Eligible voters will be able to register to vote while signing up for a drivers license.

States including Alabama and Oregon are working toward enfranchising former convicts. Kentucky is expanding its early voting procedures.

At the same time, other states are passing laws that restrict activity related to voting and make it more difficult, according to opponents, for voters to exercise their franchise.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 843 bills in 47 states are designed to expand voters’ rights, compared with 361 bills hoping to restrict those rights.

Yet even the bills that have been identified as leading to voter suppression are being presented as laws intended to preserve the integrity of voting systems.

Respect for the vote might be described as a trend.

Puerto Rico voters

In November, 2020, Puerto Rico held, along with the general election, a referendum on status. Like the votes in Alaska and Hawaii, Puerto Rico voters were asked to vote yes or no on statehood. Those who wanted statehood could vote yes. Those who did not want statehood, including proponents of independence, people who like being a territory, and supporters of any other option, could vote no.

The majority voted yes. Close to 53%, a clear majority, cast their ballots for “yes” on statehood. 47% chose “no.”

The certified results of the vote show that a majority voted for statehood.

2020 plebiscite results

Turnout for the vote was at normal levels for a general election, and the number of votes for statehood was higher than the number of votes cast for any candidate in the 2020 general election. There were no irregularities or special circumstances.

Congressional response

Yet a number of members of Congress have ignored or even repudiated the results of this historic vote.  Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) went so far as to introduce legislation in competition with the referendum. Their bill, HR 2070, ignores the vote entirely and proposes a completely different status resolution process from the one Puerto Rico chose.

“Self-determination in Puerto Rico shouldn’t come down to a simple ballot referendum,” tweeted  Ocasio-Cortez, describing the referendum as “a process that states use to resolve questions like dog racing.” Regardless of what States do, territories have used plebiscites in the process of becoming States for centuries.

Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR), responding to Ocasio-Conrtez and also to the repetition of her claim by Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), objected to the comparison. She said that the remark about dog racing was an insult to the voters of Puerto Rico.

“Both chambers of Congress now have legislation before them to act on Puerto Rico’s will, which is to admit the Island as a State. It should be up to the people, through their vote, to determine their future.  This is not what the bill introduced by Velazquez and Ocasio Cortez does, which instead ignores the will already expressed by our people and intends to impose their own views upon us. A rule we follow in Congress is that no member legislates on issues outside of their corresponding district, at least not without the endorsement of the person duly elected by the voters of said district.”

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) compared the support for HR 2070 with the movement to reject the U.S. presidential vote, in which Biden won by 4.5 points.

“I think if anything this reeks of paternalism from us stateside members of Congress,” said Gallego.

Whatever the motivation, the lack of respect for the vote stands in contrast to Congress’s purported support for voters’ rights.

3 thoughts on “Focus on Voters’ Rights Skips Puerto Rico”

  1. 23 May 2021
    47% of No votes is too high to consider the 53% a majority, USA Statehood is a much bigger choice than Rice and Beans or Mash Potatoes and sautéed Onion-Cabbage.
    A Yes, No vote for independence and nothing else is realistic. Stop daydreaming
    As soon as PR’s people really find out what they want: Go For It.
    RF McDonald, Dublin, Ireland

    1. I agree and posted earlier that it should require at least a two thirds (67%) of the voters voting for statehood for it to be considered a meaningful majority. A 53% to 40% is almost a split decision, certainly not enough to decide the future of the people of the island.

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