Puerto Ricans to vote on whether they prefer statehood or independence

by | Feb 16, 2017 | Headlines, Status | Comments

On June 11, Puerto Ricans will vote once more on whether they would like to become a state, or become independent from the United States. This follows a 2012 referendum, sponsored by the Puerto Rican government, in which the majority vote was for statehood. Seventy-eight percent of registered voters participated in the plebiscite, with 61% voting in favor of statehood.

In 2014, the US government authorized a second plebiscite, this one federally sponsored, with $2.5 million set aside to fund it. This federally sponsored vote is now making its way to actual fruition, around three years later.

This plebiscite will allow voters to chose whether they would prefer statehood, or free association. If free association is chosen, it will not be complete independence, with the United States still likely providing defense, funding grants, and some social services, as it does for the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands.

If statehood wins the majority vote, supporters hope it would help the economic crisis. It would add $10 billion in additional federal funds, allow government agencies to file for bankruptcy, allow citizens to vote in Presidential elections, grant five congressional representatives full powers, and would allow citizens to receive full access to social security and medicare benefits, for which they already pay taxes.

The plebiscite will only have two options: statehood or free association. This is the case, after voters rejected the status quo with 54% in the last plebiscite. The opposition Popular Democratic Party feels that voters may wish to pursue options that are not covered, and therefore the referendum will not accurately depict the population’s wishes, despite the 2012 result. These detractors believe that statehood will not gain the majority vote because in 2012, there was a significant portion of voters who chose not to vote in the second question of the plebiscite regarding non-territorial status options. Their argument is that the Puerto Rican population does not actually want to become a state or independent, and would rather maintain the status quo, or explore another alternate, a position that contradicts the results of the previous vote.

This referendum will be non-binding, meaning that whatever is picked will not automatically occur, and the final power on whether Puerto Rico becomes a state is held by the US Congress. As of now, it is difficult to know how they would vote.

President Trump has not said anything about Puerto Rican statehood since taking office, but on the campaign trail stated that he believed, if Puerto Rico voted clearly for statehood, that their wishes should be honored.