Given the emotional intensity that tends to surround the issue of Puerto Rico’s political status, recent plebiscite results have been relatively straightforward and devoid of drama. The numbers are clear, and statehood won.
The State Elections Commission of Puerto Rico (CEE) monitored the election from start to finish. After a public information campaign, the CEE conducted the plebiscite on November 6, 2012 in which statehood garnered 809,654 votes (61%), a clear majority. Sovereign free associated state followed with 441,505 votes (33%), and independence earned 73,362 votes (5%). (Results do not equal 100% due to rounding.)
That could be the end of the analysis, but proponents of the status options that lost are now trying to tell a different story. Statehood opponents are quick to point out, for example, that there were 421,982 voters who chose to let Puerto Rico remain a territory of the United States in the ballot’s first question, and then did not cast a vote for any of the non-territorial status options offered in the second question. (1,746,501 people answered the first question but only 1,324,519 answered the second question.)
Even if these 421,982 votes are included in the analysis, the results do not change: Statehood remains on top. The new tally would be: (1) statehood (46%), (2) sovereign free associated state (25%), (3) territory (24%), and (4) independence (4%). At its core, there are almost twice as many people who prefer statehood over the second choice (sovereign free associated state) or the third choice (the current territorial status). Roughly ten times as many people prefer statehood over independence.
More broadly, it is without question that the vast majority of Puerto Ricans would like to live under democratic rule – either as a state (46%) or under some form of independence (29%, combining independence and sovereign free association options).
This is a problem. The United States is a proud democracy that guarantees a representative government – by the people and for the people – and it appears that this quintessentially American freedom is not being extended to the 3.7 million United States citizens of Puerto Rico.
Congress now has a responsibility. Under Article IV of the Constitution, Congress is given “the power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other propriety belonging to the United States.” The recent plebiscite was only the first step. It is now the job of Congress to revisit Puerto Rico’s status as the country’s most populated territory and consider how to extend democracy to the 3.7 million United States citizens who live there.