America’s 51st State?: Puerto Rico Votes in Favor of Statehood for the First Time in History… Or Does It?

In the recent election, Puerto Rico may have voted in favor of United States statehood for the first time in history. Puerto Rican voters decided 54 to 46 percent that they were no longer content with their current status as a US commonwealth. Under this status, the island nation is subject to US federal laws—while also being exempt from some federal taxes—but its Congressional representative is non-voting, and it has no representation in the Senate. In a separate ballot question, 61 percent of respondents chose statehood as their preferred alternative status, 33 percent chose semi-autonomous “sovereign free association,” and only 6 percent chose outright independence.

Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State, Kenneth McClintock, asserts that the economic downturn and shrinking Puerto Rican population were two major factors that tipped the vote in favor of statehood. But experts within the commonwealth disagree, and many feel that problems with the ballot questions themselves resulted in a misleading conclusion. In fact, the alternative status question was left blank on close to one-third of all ballots, which means that only 45 percent of all voters actually chose statehood. Many Puerto Ricans are also in favor of additional non-colonial options for their nation, but this was not included on the ballot. While McClintock firmly believes that those who left this question blank had simply voted against change in general, some Puerto Rican voters assert that the question was left blank in protest of the minimal options given.

Additionally, former Republican governor Luis Fortuno, a fervent supporter of statehood, was replaced in the recent election by Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who wants Puerto Rico to remain a US territory. It’s highly unlikely that the US will make any moves in the direction of Puerto Rican statehood—while it seems that statehood is more strongly supported by Puerto Ricans than in the past, the recent vote seems to have simply muddled the issue.

by Genevieve Weber