In 2014, Washington approved a $2.5 million appropriation for a new status plebiscite in Puerto Rico, the first federally funded vote on the Island’s status. Former governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla promised to hold the plebiscite in 2016, but this did not take place. Now, the Puerto Rico legislature is considering a bill to hold the referendum on May 28, 2017. The options on the ballot will be statehood and independence, the only viable options for Puerto Rico’s political status.
If the people choose statehood again, the ball will be in the court of Congress. Congress has accepted 32 territories into the Union as states since 1776. While it has in some cases taken a number of attempts, Congress has never yet refused a request for statehood from a U.S. territory.
If independence wins the day, there will be a further vote in September deciding between a relationship of free association with the U.S. or completely independent nationhood.
Puerto Rico leadership plans to, at least, match the federal funding. The costs identified include not just the logistics of holding the vote, but also funds for bipartisan voter education.
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzales-Colon has already introduced a bill to make Puerto Rico the 51st state of the Union. The Puerto Rico plebiscite in May could help galvanize support of that bill.
Darren Soto (D-FL), for example, has stated that he’ll support statehood only if a new referendum confirms the 2012 vote for statehood. “My position,” he told the Orlando Sentinel, “is that we need to have a clear vote on a referendum that says ‘yes’ or ‘no’ before I can support the admission of Puerto Rico as a state.”
Jose Serrano (D-NY) is another supporter of a permanent status for Puerto Rico, expressing approval for either independence or statehood, but not with the current “colonial” relationship. He, like Soto, President-elect Trump, and many more members of the U.S. government, has said he’ll strongly support the decision of the people of Puerto Rico.
The May 28th vote would provide the opportunity to clarify the wishes of the Puerto Rican people.