Puerto Rico can’t vote for President, and we should fix that by making it a state

by | Apr 5, 2016 | Opinion, Status | Comments

The 2016 Presidential Election is fast approaching, and with Ben Carson and Marco Rubio already out of the race, only 5 candidates in total are continuing their journey for the upcoming conventions in Philadelphia and Cleveland.

Puerto Rico has already voted in the Republican primary: Rubio got 74% of the votes, followed by Trump with 14% and Cruz with 9% of the total votes. The Democratic primaries will be held on June 5 in a closed Caucus. These primaries happen to be the better part of the election process for Puerto Ricans. It is the only opportunity given to them to get their voices heard nationally. Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution clearly states that only states can participate in the electoral process. Even though Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and the US Virgin Islands are territories of the United States, they are not recognized as states. This means that the citizens of these jurisdictions cannot participate in the federal elections.

The question of whether Puerto Rico should be able to vote in the federal elections relates to a broader question; should Puerto Rico become the 51st state?

There are many reasons that can be talked about why Puerto Rico should become a US state. The following examples are one of the most important ones (if you would like to learn more you can look here).

First off, Puerto Ricans themselves want to become a state. A status referendum was done in Puerto Rico regarding the statehood question. For the first time, there were more Puerto Ricans that were in favor of statehood in the US than people who wanted independence. There were two more status referendums, one in 1967 and another one in 1998, when there were significantly more people who were not in favor of statehood. The most recent one has shown us that the number of Puerto Ricans who wanted statehood has increased in the past 40 years and is probably continuing to increase as the crisis in Puerto Rico continues.

Results of the 2012 referendum:

Statehood* 61.16%
Free Association 33.34%
Independence 5.49%


Secondly, Puerto Rico is missing many of the privileges that it would get if it were a state, which has also led up to the ongoing severe crisis. A big part of this is caused by many young Puerto Ricans leaving Puerto Rico for a better life in the mainland of the United States. This event, also known as the “brain drain”, decreases the number of skilled workers. This brain drain does not really include the aging population. The poor Medicare treatment provided to Puerto Rico worsens the situation with older people and it is clearly unfair because Puerto Ricans only get half of the Medicare funding a US state gets but Puerto Ricans pay the same tax rates as mainland residents.

Statehood would mean that not only could we expect improvement in the healthcare sector, but the economy would surely improve as well. Before Hawaii and Alaska became states in 1959, they had a vast segment of their populations living in poverty and another huge segment that was unemployed. After they became full states, they had rapid improvement in every field. Now, their poverty and unemployment rates are below the average of the nation as a whole. This is a sign which indicates that Puerto Rico would see a positive change.

The United States as a whole, in addition to Puerto Rico, will also benefit from granting statehood to Puerto Rico. The US is paying approximately $22 billion for Puerto Rico in its Commonwealth status. If Puerto Rico was a state, then the US might have to pay a few million dollars more in disbursements, but the money will be more efficiently spent than it is now. Furthermore, the US Federal Government would also earn a significant amount from the income tax. This would also be beneficial to the economic situation as the Federal Government would be a better spender than the local governments.

Putting all these reasons aside, people are still wondering if Puerto Ricans will be able to vote in the upcoming 2016 elections. The short answer is no. There will not be enough time for Puerto Rico to become a state in just a few months. It took Alaska around 92 years to become a state and 104 years for Oklahoma. Looking at these numbers, it would be reasonable to say that Puerto Ricans will not be able to vote this year, and most probably for another decade as well.

Taking into account all of the previous reasons, I firmly believe that Puerto Rico should become a state, especially before 2020. Adding up another 5 to 10 years for the economy to stabilize,if events occur as stated above, Puerto Rico should become a totally changed place by 2030, which is also the year by which the United Nations wants to end world poverty and hunger.

And we should not forget that Puerto Rico’s statehood process can also play a leading role in the statehood process of the other struggling US territories: Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands.