On June 11th, 2017, 97% of voters chose statehood from the three options that the U.S. Department of Justice named as the “viable options” for Puerto Rico’s status:
- independence, with or without Free Association
- the current territorial status
These are the only choices Puerto Rico has under the U.S. Constitution. There are three main political parties in Puerto Rico. Each supports one of these three options. The Independence Party is too small to be considered a major party in official terms, but it is traditionally considered important.
The Independence Party has never received as much as 6% of the vote on any referendum, and has never fielded a successful candidate for Governor of Puerto Rico.
The “commonwealth” party has for decades supported an idea of “enhanced commonwealth” which all branches of the U.S. federal government have vigorously rejected. They boycotted the 2017 vote, ostensibly because they don’t agree that “the current territorial status” is the same as “commonwealth.” They may also have boycotted the vote because they were sure they would lose to statehood and wanted a means of rejecting the vote.
José M. Saldaña, former president of the University of Puerto Rico, described the current situation in the “commonwealth” party as a division into two parts. “One side promotes free association (independence), and one supports the territorial commonwealth status as is and/or the so called ‘enhanced commonwealth’ status,” expains Saldana. “Free association is a valid constitutional option, as is the territorial status, but the so-called ‘enhanced commonwealth’ is nothing but a wish list of fantasies without any legal or constitutional possibility.”
The statehood party supports statehood, which is a possibility under the U.S. Constitution. It is in fact the usual next step for territories; 32 territories have become states so far.This option received the largest number of votes in both the 2012 and the 2017 plebiscites. It has consistently received the highest level of support in polls in Puerto Rico.
2017 plebiscite boycott
The anti-statehood parties banded together to demand a boycott of the 2017 plebiscite. While it is self-evident that nobody will call for a boycott of a vote they expect to win, the voter turnout in 2017 was lower than usual for Puerto Rico.
This fact was used to attempt to discredit the vote. However, voter turnout is not a factor in elections in the U.S. Examples of low turnout in recent elections:
- Special Elections in North Carolina were decided by 19.14% of voters in 2017.
- Nebraska’s presidential primary was decided by 13.76% of voters in 2016.
- The Mayor of Dallas was elected with 6% voter turnout in 2015.
There are many more examples. In no case was low turnout used as an excuse to reject the results of the election.
The low turnout has been used as an excuse to ignore the 2017 plebiscite.
New statehood bill
The government of Puerto Rico formally requested statehood in January 2018. While no territory yet has been refused statehood, many have had to ask multiple times.
Puerto Rico’s struggle for statehood has not yet been completed, but the next steps are underway.