Statehood Yes or No Vote: A History

Pedro Pierluisi, who was the Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico at the time, wrote a letter to President Obama in 2015 recommending a yes-or-no vote on statehood for Puerto Rico.

“Thomas Jefferson wrote the ‘the ground of liberty is to be gained by inches’,” Pierluisi began his letter. He went on to define statehood as “the only democratic and dignified status option that has broad public support on the island.”

Statehood receive majority votes in plebiscites in 2012 and 2017, while independence received less than 6%.

“Although some people have yet to fully appreciate it,” he continued, “the statehood movement — which is a civil rights movement — has advanced further and faster toward our ultimate goal within the last six years that during any other period since Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898.”

Pierluisi stated that he had been able to persuade Congress “to be honest about the status options available to Puerto Rico if it does not wish to remain a U.S. territory. Without exception, your administration and Congress have affirmed that the only other options for Puerto Rico are to become a state or a sovereign nation, either fully independent from the U.S. or with a compact of free association with the U.S. that either nation can terminate.”

Pierluisi ran through the timeline of the preceding few years, including the choice of statehood by the voters of Puerto Rico, several additional rejections of the concept of “enhanced commonwealth“, the appropriation of $2.5 million for a federally-sponsored plebiscite, and the passage of a law to use those funds for a plebiscite in Puerto Rico.

“It has been nearly a year since the provision appropriating $2.5 million for the first federally-sponsored plebiscite in Puerto Rico’s history became law,” Pierluisi wrote. By now, five more years have passed.

Pierluisi’s letter proposed a simple yes-or-no vote on statehood. He gave five reasons to support this plan:

  1. There is precedent for an up or down vote on statehood. Both Alaska and Hawaii, the most recent territories to become states, both used this format.
  2. This approach is logical, since statehood received the most votes in 2012. Statehood also received the vast majority of the votes in 2017, following Pierluisi’s letter.
  3. The format allows everyone to vote, whether they approve of statehood or not. “Yes to statehood” and “No to statehood” cover all the bases.
  4. The vote would provide a clear result. Following both the 2012 and the 2017 referenda, anti-statehood factions came up with specious arguments against accepting the vote.
  5. The yes/no vote has bipartisan support.

A yes or no vote has now been proposed and supported by a variety of leaders, including the current Resident Commissioner, the current Governor of Puerto Rico, and the President of the Puerto Rico Senate.

Pierluisi recommended the following ballot language in his letter:

“Shall Puerto Rico be admitted into the Union as a State? Yes___ No___.”

Download and read the full letter:

1.6.15 Letter to President Obama Regarding Puerto Rico’s Status

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