U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and a group of Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen last month objecting to the Department of Justice’s characterization of the 2012 plebiscite vote.
“I am deeply concerned by the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) contentions that the residents of the island did not directly reject the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s Puerto Rico’s current territory status in a local plebiscite held in 2012,” wrote Chairman Grijalva in a letter signed by 21 other House Democrats.
The 2012 plebiscite asked two questions. Grijalva reminded Rosen of the questions asked, and objected to the DOJ’s apparent misrepresentation of the results.
“The argument that Puerto Rico did not reject its current territory status in 2012 conflates the plebiscite’s two separate questions,” the Grijalva letter continues. “The first question asked voters ‘Do you agree that Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of territorial status?’ According to results certified by the PRSEC [Puerto Rico State Elections Commission], approximately 78.2% of eligible voters answered this question and 54.0% chose ‘No’. There is no serious debate about the results of the first question.”
The Second Question
“The second question asked voters to choose between statehood, independence, and a sovereign free associated state, regardless of their selection in the first question. According to results certified by PRSEC, approximately 61.2% chose statehood, 33.3% chose sovereign free associated state, and 5.5% chose independence. However, some people debate the results of the second question.”
The letter then quotes a report by the Congressional Research Service, saying, “Debate focused on whether almost 500,000 blank answers on the second question should be included in the total, thereby affecting whether any alternative received a majority.”
Grijalva Claims DOJ is Disingenuous
“Therefore,” the Grijalva letter continues, “it is disingenuous of DOJ to write that in 2012 the residents of Puerto Rico did not reject the island’s current territory status, as demonstrated by the results of the first question.”
The July 20 letter from Deputy Attorney General Rosen to then-Chairman Juan Ernesto Dávila of the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission explaining why the Justice Department refused to approve the ballot and other materials for the 2020 plebiscite complained that the ballot took an “anti-territorial” point of view. The letter also stated that the United States had made a “policy judgment” that “the people of Puerto Rico have not yet definitively rejected the Commonwealth’s current status.”
The DOJ described its insistence on including the territory option on the ballot as part of its “neutral” stance on Puerto Rico’s political status.
“The Executive Branch, Congress, and Puerto Rico’s elected government officials must work together to resolve the island’s political status” Grijalva’s letter concluded, “and that process requires accurately describing and acknowledging the aspirations of the residents of Puerto Rico.”
On November 3rd, Puerto Rico proceeded with its plebiscite vote, which resulted in over 52% of ballots cast in favor of statehood.