On April 13 the U.S. Department of Justice issued a statement regarding the ballot that had been approved by the government of Puerto Rico for the political status plebiscite then scheduled to be held on June 11.
USDOJ identified what it determined to be “misleading…ambiguities” in the ballot. Without agreeing to the USDOJ statement, Puerto Rico revised the ballot to address issues raised in the statement and conducted the status vote on schedule.
Here are the primary points made in the USDOJ statement that materially impacted local understanding of federal territorial policy and law:
- “Free association” is a form of independence, not to be confused with proposals for “enhanced commonwealth” status.
- “Commonwealth” is a form of local civil government for a U.S. territory governed by Congress in exercise of its territorial powers, and must be defined in that way on any plebiscite ballot
- “Commonwealth” is not “Free Association” or “Free Associated State” status.
- “Commonwealth” cannot be “enhanced” to create a sovereign, non-territorial status.
- U.S. citizenship in Puerto Rico exists under the current territorial status pursuant to a federal statutory law rather than the U.S. Constitution as it applies in States of the Union
- Statutory U.S. citizenship in the territory currently is “guaranteed” without conditions for all persons born in Puerto Rico while it remains a territory, as long as the current citizenship statute is not amended or repealed.
- If Puerto Rico becomes independent, with or without a treaty of free association, Congress would determine terms for disposition of U.S. citizenship status during transition to sovereign nationality and citizenship for Puerto Rico
These USDOJ findings were fatal to the political viability of the Commonwealth Party platform. That party seeks to preserve the current colonial status based on a multi-year old charade changing the name “territory” to “commonwealth,” and then changing that to “free associated state.”
On that basis the Commonwealth party indoctrinates its members to believe the territory has been converted into a sovereign nation with U.S. citizenship and permanent autonomous union with the United States. The USDOJ declarations of April 13 confirmed that the unrealistic “enhanced commonwealth” doctrine has been discredited and rejected by the U.S. as unconstitutional.
Accordingly, the local Commonwealth Party knew the pro-statehood vote in the June 11 plebiscite would be even greater than the 61% majority for statehood in the 2012 status vote.
To avoid an even more embarrassing defeat in 2017, the Commonwealth Party called for a boycott of the June 11 vote.
The local Independence Party –which has never won more than 5% of the vote — had nothing to lose by joining the boycott.
Because the June 11 plebiscite was a special election rather than a general election with party candidates for elected offices on the ballot, voter turnout was expected to be far lower than the 2012 general election plebiscite.
Of course in a democracy the level of participation does not determine the legal validity or political meaning of the vote. If it did, national, state, county and local elections in the U.S. would often be considered inconclusive since the majority of registered voters often don’t participate.
The June 11 vote for statehood was a free and orderly act of democratic self-determination and its lawfully certified results confirm the certified 2012 results. In America we honor verified results, not the ranting and raving of those who don’t agree with the certified results.
It is a matter of legal record that the 61% statehood vote in 2012 has now risen to 97% in the 2017 vote for statehood. That creates even greater impetus for Puerto Rico to be admitted as a state than that which existed for 32 other U.S. territories previously admitted as states. Puerto Rico is far more incorporated into the political, legal, economic and social life of the nation than any other previous territory that became state.
Examples of these previous territories include Utah, California, and Louisiana. Puerto Rico’s qualifications for statehood are arguably greater than any of these current states.
Even though the voter participation was lower than general election norms, by national standards the 31% turnout the June 11 vote result was a more decisive democratic mandate for admission to statehood than numerous territories that became states. All other interpretations of the June 11 results by local parts and factions in Puerto Rico and in Washington are historically dishonest and anti-democratic.
These dishonest interpretations questioning the meaning of the vote as a free and informed act of self-determination are an assault of the right of democratic majority rule for our 3.3. million fellow U.S. citizens in the last large U.S. territory.