The options in the revised Puerto Rico status vote, explained
It has been a contentious road to defining the new options for the plebiscite ballot in the upcoming vote. Majority parties are fighting hard for statehood and American nationality and minority parties are railing against it in a show of Puerto Rican identity. It can be confusing to navigate the language of the bills and options so we have provided a quick breakdown of the options on the upcoming ballot.
The first option is the option for full statehood rights. The text reads as follows:
“With my vote, I reiterate my request to the Federal Government to immediately begin the process of decolonization with the admission of Puerto Rico as a state of the United States of America. I am aware that the result of this request for statehood would entail equal rights and duties with the other states and the permanent union of Puerto Rico with the United [States]. I am also aware that my vote claiming Statehood means my support of all efforts toward the admission of Puerto Rico as a state of the Union, and to all state or federal legislation aimed at establishing equal conditions, Congressional Representation, and the Presidential Vote for the American Citizens of Puerto Rico.”
This option is the choice for full statehood rights for the Island of Puerto Rico. With this option Puerto Ricans will have continued American protection and citizenship, more government funding, programs, and entitlements will be available, as well as representation in Washington DC and the right to vote in nationwide federal elections. This is also the only route to permanent United States association. Statehood also comes with the federal income tax and a bevy of other taxes that will be an increased burden on the already finance strapped island as well as a crackdown on tax evaders across the island. The question for statehood is a relatively simple one, is it acceptable, as United States citizens, to have a colony/commonwealth, and are the benefits that may come in the future with statehood worth the sacrifice of independence?
The second option on the ballot is that of free association/independence. This is a contentious matter as the legality of this option was originally called into question by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for being unclear and possibly illegal. The revised text reads as follows
“With my vote, I make the initial request to the Federal Government to begin the process of the decolonization through: (1) Free Association: Puerto Rico should adopt a status outside of the Territory Clause of the Constitution of the United States that recognizes the sovereignty of the People of Puerto Rico. The Free Association would be based on a free and voluntary political association, the specific terms of which shall be agreed upon between the United States and Puerto Rico as sovereign nations. Such agreement would provide the scope of the jurisdictional powers that the People of Puerto Rico agree to confer to the United States and retain all other jurisdictional powers and authorities. Under this option the American citizenship would be subject to negotiation with the United States Government; (2) Proclamation of Independence, I demand that the United States Government, in the exercise of its power to dispose of territory, recognize the national sovereignty of Puerto Rico as a completely independent nation and that the United States Congress enact the necessary legislation to initiate the negotiation and transition to the independent nation of Puerto Rico. My vote for Independence also represents my claim to the rights, duties, powers, and prerogatives of independent and democratic republic’s, my support of Puerto Rican citizenship, and a “Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation” between Puerto Rico and the United States after the transition process.”
This option was under review for a while because the concept and initial proposal for Free Association sounded too much to the DOJ like enhanced commonwealth which is a status option that is unconstitutional because of its lack of adherence to American laws, trade deals, and sovereign power. Essentially it is all the benefits of US citizenship with none of the responsibilities that come along with it. Now with the revised ballot the option looks closer to the Federated State of Micronesia. This options allows for access to US programs, military provisions and protections, as well as a certain level of travel freedom between the free associated state and the United States. Some critics disparage this system because America is not involved enough in the day to day operations of the country, and some of the countries are not prosperous.
The option for total independence would return total sovereign rule over to the government of Puerto Rico and would mean that Puerto Ricans would essentially be building a new country up from scratch. This would eliminate citizenship, and theoretically American protection, American funding, and trade deals from any part of Puerto Rican government interaction. Puerto Ricans would be free Puerto Ricans for the first time. However, the fear is that with the dissolution of United Stated bonds Puerto Rico would face an unmitigated crisis that would harm the island’s’ infrastructure, economy, and people. The philosophical backing behind the independence notion is that the islands of Puerto Rico are lacking in authority and are only being used by the United States government, while independence would grant the people of Puerto Rico a certain level of honest dignity that comes from being a people that are owned by themselves. The question, similar to the question for statehood, is to ask though is whether the challenges that independence will present are worth the payoff?
Current Territorial Status
The last option is a new option for this current plebiscite is the option for a “remain” status. Much like Brexit’s remain status this option continue the current commonwealth status, as demanded by the DOJ, who stated the current status was valid and should be included as an option. The text reads as follows:
“With my vote, I express my wish that Puerto Rico remains as it is today, subject to the powers of Congress, subject to the Territory Clause of the United States Constitution that in the Article 4, section 3 of the United States Constitution states: “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.”
This option would continue Puerto Rico’s current systems and status quo and makes clear that the enhanced commonwealth option is off the table. If this option is chosen in the upcoming vote Puerto Rico will continue on in the way it has been run for over 100 years, and all practices and precedents will remain in place.