Mike Groll/AP

Mike Groll/AP

Puer­to Rico ref­er­en­dum his­toric, but com­plex: 809,000 vote for state­hood, only 73,000 for inde­pen­dence, and 441,000 for sov­er­eign free asso­ci­a­tion

Elec­tions in Puer­to Rico are always more com­pli­cat­ed than they seem. The ref­er­en­dum on the island’s future was, in fact, a two-part vote that actu­al­ly revealed that most want an end to the sta­tus quo, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly state­hood.

The coun­try was focused on the vote for Pres­i­dent last week, but 4 mil­lion U.S. cit­i­zens in Puer­to Rico held their own his­toric vote.

That vote drew scant atten­tion state­side, and the few ini­tial press accounts here got the sto­ry wrong.

The Asso­ci­at­ed Press, for exam­ple, report­ed that a big major­i­ty — 61% of vot­ers — cast bal­lots in favor of the island becom­ing the 51st state.

But elec­tions in Puer­to Rico are always more com­pli­cat­ed than they seem. The ref­er­en­dum on the island’s future was, in fact, a two-part vote that actu­al­ly revealed that most want an end to the sta­tus quo, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly state­hood.

Yes, a major­i­ty of the astound­ing 1.8 mil­lion peo­ple who cast bal­lots — 54% — vot­ed against the cur­rent “com­mon­wealth” sta­tus.

Nev­er before has a major­i­ty on the island turned against the exist­ing sit­u­a­tion.

But the sec­ond part of the ref­er­en­dum is where many out­siders got con­fused.

On it, vot­ers were giv­en only three choic­es: state­hood, inde­pen­dence, or sov­er­eign free asso­ci­a­tion. The first two are pret­ty self-evi­dent, but under the third option, Puer­to Rico would become a sep­a­rate nation but in a vol­un­tary polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary union with the Unit­ed States, much like the arrange­ment our gov­ern­ment now has with the Fed­er­at­ed States of Microne­sia and Palau.

And the results were: 809,000 votes for state­hood, only 73,000 for inde­pen­dence, and 441,000 for sov­er­eign free asso­ci­a­tion.

So a major­i­ty wants Puer­to Rico to be the 51st state, right?

Not exact­ly. More than 470,000 peo­ple cast blank bal­lots in protest of the sec­ond part of the ref­er­en­dum, fol­low­ing a rec­om­men­da­tion from the pro-com­mon­wealth Pop­u­lar Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty.

So state­hood did not actu­al­ly receive 61% of the vote — until you ignore the near­ly half a mil­lion peo­ple who cast blank bal­lots.

If you fac­tor in that protest vote, state­hood gar­nered 45%, a result that’s vir­tu­al­ly unchanged from pre­vi­ous ref­er­en­dums in 1993 and 1998.

In a final sign of how much islanders are opposed to join­ing the Unit­ed States, pro-state­hood Gov. Luis For­tuño was swept from office.

Vot­ers also hand­ed the major­i­ty of may­oral seats and con­trol of both hous­es of the leg­is­la­ture to the pro-com­mon­wealth Pop­u­lar Democ­rats.

Why is that even impor­tant?

Because Puer­to Rico has been a U.S. ter­ri­to­r­i­al pos­ses­sion for 114 years, and if it ever becomes a state, it could alter the nation­al polit­i­cal map.

Not only would it be the first over­whelm­ing­ly His­pan­ic state; it would qual­i­fy for two U.S. sen­a­tors and five or six seats in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Both Pres­i­dent Oba­ma and his Repub­li­can chal­lenger, Mitt Rom­ney, promised dur­ing their cam­paigns to advo­cate in Con­gress for what­ev­er sta­tus island res­i­dents chose.

So here’s what they want: Puer­to Ricans want an end to their colo­nial sit­u­a­tion, but they don’t want to become the 51st state.

 

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Tues­day, Novem­ber 13, 2012
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