During a recent visit to Washington, DC, Puerto Rico’s new governor challenged the results of last November’s plebiscite, which was held along with his and other local elections.
Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said that the plebiscite was unfair because the ballot defined Puerto Rico’s current status as “territorial.”
However, Congress has power over Puerto Rico “under the Territory Clause of the Constitution” of the United States, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Obama Administration, the administrations of both Presidents Bush, the Clinton Administration, the U.S. House of Representatives, the lead U.S. Senate committee on territories (Energy and Natural Resources), the Congressional Research Service, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office agree that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States.
And Garcia Padilla himself said that “Puerto Rico is under the Territorial Clause” in a televised interview June 26th, 2011.
In the plebiscite, 54% of the vote was cast against continuing the islands’ current territory status. Garcia Padilla had urged a vote in favor of continuing the status.
And beginning the transition to U.S. statehood won 61.2% of the vote in the plebiscite among the other two viable alternatives to territory status — independence and nationhood in a free association with the United States.
Garcia Padilla’s “commonwealth” party only supports continuation of Puerto Rico’s current status as an alternative to its proposed governing arrangement for the islands, an unprecedented arrangement that it wants “commonwealth” status to be.
Under the proposal, Puerto Rico would be empowered to nullify the application of Federal laws and Federal court jurisdiction and empowered to enter into international agreements and organizations as if it were a sovereign nation. Additionally, the United States would be permanently bound to granting new financial support to the Government of Puerto Rico, all current assistance to Puerto Ricans, continued free entry to goods shipped from Puerto Rico, U.S. citizenship based on birth in the islands, and to the entire arrangement.
The Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton Administrations, the U.S. House committee on territories (Natural Resources), and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate committee have said that the arrangement is impossible from both a constitutional and practical perspective..
Garcia Padilla has also contested the plebiscite asserting that it was a trick designed to benefit predecessor Luis Fortuno’s re-election campaign by encouraging statehooders to vote. Even if that were true, there would be nothing wrong with encouraging voters to vote, and the motivation for doing so would be irrelevant. What is relevant is how people voted.
‘Commonwealthers’ also dispute the results of the plebiscite arguing that some people did not vote on an alternative to the current status. In every election, many people do not vote. In every election, many people do not vote on some questions while voting on others. Elections are determined by votes, not by people who do not vote.
Further, under law only actual votes count. And Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission, which included a representative of the territory’s “commonwealth” party, unanimously certified the results of the plebiscite — including the percentages of the votes for each status option.
The only plebiscite in Puerto Rico in which a “Commonwealth” proposal won a majority, held in 1967, was boycotted by the statehood and Independence parties. ‘Commonwealthers’ do not discount the “Commonwealth” proposal from that plebiscite because of the boycotts. (Like the “commonwealth” that Garcia Padilla wants, the proposal was not the current status and proved to be unacceptable to the U.S. Government.)
Votes constitute the most authoritative voice in a democracy, taking precedence over that of any elected official. (And the official who won the most votes in the elections is not Garcia Padilla. It is Puerto Rico’s sole representative in the Federal Government, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, who serves in the U.S. House but cannot vote on final legislation. He supports the plebiscite results.)
Garcia Padilla does not like it but Puerto Ricans have voted to have the current status replaced and petitioned for beginning the transition to statehood. The only way that these positions of Puerto Rico can be changed would be through another plebiscite.