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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