Pierluisi Sets the Record Straight on Puerto Rico Plebiscite

On May 20, 2013, Puerto Rico’s Governor, Alejandro Garcia-Padilla, wrote an article for The Hill entitled “Moving forward together.” In the article, the governor expressed his opinions surrounding the results of the November 2012 plebiscite; specifically, Governor Garcia-Padilla wrote “[t]he results of the Nov. 6, 2012 [plebiscite] are inconclusive — none of the options for Puerto Rico’s political status received a majority of votes.”

The governor’s claim that no option received a majority of votes is categorically false. As a White House spokesman noted a month after the plebiscite, “[t]o clarify, the results were clear, the people of Puerto Rico want the issue of status resolved, and a majority chose statehood in the second question.”

On May 21, 2013, Puerto Rico’s sole U.S. Representative in Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, wrote his own article, also published in The Hill, responding to the governor’s false claims: “Setting the record straight: A response to Puerto Rico’s governor.”

Representative Pierluisi first acknowledged that he and the governor fundamentally disagree on the proper path for Puerto Rico; Representative Pierluisi supports statehood, while Governor Garcia-Padilla would like an enhanced “Commonwealth” status for Puerto Rico, which has been determined to be unconstitutional and impossible as a practical matter. Puerto Rico’s current status is that of a U.S. territory (see “Puerto Rico: A U.S. Territory,” for more information on Puerto Rico’s current status).

In describing his support for statehood, Rep. Pierluisi wrote that he “cannot comprehend how one can defend a status that deprives the 3.7 million U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico of voting representation in their national government, denies them equal treatment under federal law, and is the root cause of the significant economic and security problems on the island that the governor bemoans.”

To disavow the notion put forth by Governor Garcia-Padilla that no option for Puerto Rico’s status received a majority of the vote, Representative Pierluisi broke down the results of the November 2012 plebiscite: the referendum consisted of two questions. The first question asked if Puerto Rico should continue as a territory. “Of the 1.8 million voters who answered, 970,910 voters — 53.97 percent — voted ‘no’ and 828,077 voters — 46.03 percent — voted ‘yes.’ This was the result — the vote totals and the percentages — certified by the Puerto Rico Elections Commission, consisting of representatives from each of the territory’s status-based parties.”

Representative Pierluisi explained the governor’s claim of inconclusive results stemmed from his inclusion of 67,000 blank ballots and 13,000 invalidated ballots. The governor considers these to be votes for the status quo.  As Representative Pierluisi stated, “counting blank and invalid ballots contradicts Puerto Rico election law … and common sense – one cannot divine voter intent from a blank or invalid ballot.”

The second question presented voters with three options. “Of the 1.36 million voters who chose an option, 834,191 voters — 61.16 percent — chose statehood. The number of votes for statehood on the second question exceeded the number of votes for the current status on the first question. For the first time, more people want Puerto Rico to become a state than to remain a territory.” The certified results of the November plebiscite can also be seen here.

It is imperative that the people be heard, and Representative Pierluisi was correct to point out that the same voters who put the governor in office also voted for statehood and against the current territory status. The results of the November plebiscite are clear and should not be misconstrued or misrepresented.

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