In November, two important ballot issues will affect Puerto Rico. Those living in Puerto Rico will have another opportunity to vote on statehood. This vote will offer the same simple choice Alaska and Hawaii had in the 20thcentury: a straight up-or-down vote on statehood.
The government of Puerto Rico hopes that the 2020 plebiscite will take place under a 2014 law which allocated $2.5 billion for a final vote to resolve the status question. This could only happen if the Department of Justice approves the ballot.
A new Puerto Rico law calls upon Congress to honor a November plebiscite if Puerto Rico voters choose statehood.
November will also bring the U.S. presidential race, with Donald Trump as the Republican candidate facing off against Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate.
A recent article in the Miami Herald suggests that Joe Biden may not be a strong enough supporter of Puerto Rico Statehood to win the important Florida Puerto Rican vote.
Puerto Rican voters living in Florida have historically shown loose ties to the national Republican and Democratic parties, regardless of their party registrations. Polls have shown that they generally favor the candidates who will actively support statehood for Puerto Rico.
Does Joe Biden support statehood?
Biden has said that Puerto Rico’s status is “very bizarre” and that Puerto Rico should keep fighting for statehood.
More recently, however, he has also said that he will “engage Puerto Ricans — including representatives of every status option — in a process of self-determination, listening and developing federal legislation that outlines a fair path forward,”
Statehood’s importance in the Florida vote
The coronavirus pandemic may have shortened the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign season. Biden won Florida’s primary and Puerto Rico’s Democratic primary was pushed from March to July 12th, when it will take place in spite of the fact that Biden is already the official Democratic Party candidate. However the Herald article suggests that bringing out the Puerto Rican vote in Florida this November may rely on addressing Puerto Rico’s status.
“The Biden campaign can win votes and increase turnout among Puerto Ricans in Central Florida if he embraces statehood,” said Kenneth McClintock, a former Democratic National Committee member from Puerto Rico and former president of the Puerto Rican Senate. “It’s not a coincidence that some of the strongest statehooders in Congress are Congressman Darren Soto and Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy.”
The November plebiscite will be, as is the nature of plebiscites, non-binding. However, a clear vote for statehood by the majority of Puerto Rico’s U.S. citizen voters would change the situation and make it difficult for any politician who believes in democracy to oppose statehood.
With the majority of Floridians in favor of statehood for Puerto Rico, a clear position on the subject could strengthen Biden’s candidacy in the swing state. Congress makes the decision on admitting a new territory, but Biden could make statehood for Puerto Rico part of his legacy if he wins in November.