In 2014 the Republican-controlled Congress passed a bipartisan bill signed by President Obama, providing $2.5 million to fund the first federally sponsored referendum in Puerto Rico on the future political status of our nation’s last large and populous U.S. territory. That act (U.S. Public Law 113-73) might not have stood out amid the politics of the moment, but it constituted the official response by Washington to a 2012 referendum sponsored by the territorial government in Puerto Rico.

Right now, Washington’s immediate focus is on Puerto Rico’s recovery from a public agency debt crisis. But historical forces were set in motion by that 2012 referendum, in which a strong majority voted for statehood instead of the current territorial status. The Certified Official Results of the 2012 Plebiscite show a clear result.

Certified Official Results of the 2012 Plebiscite:


Because of local politics surrounding the future political status issue, the local government leaders in the territory did not conduct the vote authorized by Congress in 2014. The new leadership elected this year has scheduled the referendum for June 11th, 2017.

The lesson of history is that short-term political and economic issues in U.S. territories can delay transition to statehood or nationhood, but once the people have chosen a future status forces are set in motion that lead to admission to the union or to independence. The nation’s attention may be focused on Puerto Rico’s current fiscal meltdown, but several territories became states under far more difficult circumstances.

So here are the facts about the 2012 vote in Puerto Rico that led Congress and the White House in 2014 quietly to begin the transition from territorial status to statehood or nationhood, based on a federally sponsored referendum to be held in 2017:

1. The population of Puerto Rico is 3.5 million. Since 1917 by act of Congress all persons born in Puerto Rico have birthright U.S. citizenship, and under both federal and local election laws are eligible to vote at age 18. On November 6, 2012, 1.8 million out of 2.4 registered voters in Puerto Rico cast ballots in a political status referendum, representing participation in the vote by 78% of all registered voters.

2. The 2012 referendum was sponsored and funded by the constitutional government of Puerto Rico, and was a public act consistent with the federal statute that created and vested legal authority in the constitutional government of the territory. The referendum was conducted in an orderly manner without incidents, abuses, irregularities or disruptions that called into question the results of the voting, as duly certified in an open and public manner by the Puerto Rico Elections Commission.

3. The two part ballot format was based on a political status self-determination ballot template accepted by the Reagan Administration, U.S. Congress and U.N. when employed in 1982 and 1983 for status votes in the U.S. governed territories under United Nations Trusteeship for the Pacific Islands. The ballot language in the 2012 referendum was consistent with the definition of status option confirmed in the record before the U.S. Congress as well as White House reports by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Political Status.

4. In the referendum, 54% percent of U.S. citizens casting votes on the first ballot question voted to end the current political status of the territory. On the second question 61% voted for statehood. The total number of votes cast for statehood on the second ballot question was greater than the votes cast to continue the current status on the first question. This means that the current status lost an up and down vote on the first question and lost to statehood in the overall voting.

5. There were large numbers of blank and invalid ballots cast on both questions in 2012. Anti-statehood leaders argued that ballots left blank on the second question should be counted against statehood. There is no legal or democratic basis in the law authorizing the referendum or ballot instructions for attributing any meaning to blank ballots. The U.S. Department of Justice, Congress, U.S. federal courts and the U.N. General Assembly accepted the results of the 1983 political status vote in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, in which it was certified that more than 75% of voters answered the first ballot question but declined to cast a vote on a second ballot question. Blank ballots were not counted in status referendums in U.S. territories that became states.

6. The 2012 vote in Puerto Rico was a more definitive and authoritative act of democratic self-determination than the statehood votes sponsored by territorial governments and Congress in several territories that became states. Several states were admitted by petition without a referendum. Colorado and Nebraska were admitted even though statehood lost the only votes held in those territories.

Based on the forgoing, it is incontrovertible that the 2012 status vote in Puerto Rico was a legally valid act of self-determination conducted within the legal framework of U.S. federal law authoring the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico to act through a locally adopted constitution approved by Congress to express their political will regarding local matters within the context of the territory’s relations with the federal government.

There are multiple examples in which Congress has sponsored federally recognized status votes to confirm results of local acts of self-determination conducted in territories that later became states.

Historically, every large and populous territory populated by U.S. citizens has been admitted to the union once the majority of citizens in the territory has democratically petitioned in favor of union, either in a referendum, local territorial legislature resolutions or by elected territorial leadership.



12 Responses

  1. […] Instead, both Oliver and his guest Lin-Manuel Miranda, of Broadway play “Hamilton” fame, went out of their way to insist that Puerto Rico’s fiscal meltdown is too dire a humanitarian crisis to even talk about the “complicated issue” of statehood until the economy is stabilized and recovered. That is an argument for maintaining territorial status for years to come, against the freely and democratically expressed wishes of the people in a 2012 referendum. If you think denial of self-determination is a laughing matter or would like to find out what actually is going on in the Puerto Rico political status process, read about the upcoming referendum. […]

  2. I leave in Puerto Rico for almost 4 years while on active duty as Senior Army Advisor in the Army from 1995 to 1996. I believe Puerto Rico should be become the 51st State – they already enjoy the benefits of a state: federal welfare, social security, postal service, federal courts, Veterans Hospital, US Army Reserve. Beautiful people who should become a full part of the United States of America.

  3. It’s time for Puerto Rico to evolve.
    Time to go full American and embrace the privilege of statehood than many countries would do anything for.
    Puerto Rico would recieve relief for the debt,
    more benefits and progress as a state, and is part of the US anyhow so statehood should be an obvious decision.
    Puerto Rico is already the US territory with the most beautiful and culturally rich people and geography making Puerto Rico the most attractive state to visit and/or settle in.
    I fully embrace my fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and look forward to the day of statehood.

  4. The reason for the current financial crisis in Puerto Rico is not a mystery to the ones that want to see it. The local goverment’s corruption and the US looking the other way have been the perfect partners in crime. The Social Security Administration have exposed the fraud from individual citizens but the US Department of Justice continues to ignore the fraudulent use of federal funds by local politicians for personal and political gain. Leaving to the local courts to decide on a federal indictment on a governor for corruption was a futile, absurd and even a road map to the current financial crisis. The current federal financial control board might be able to restructure the fiscal mess but won’t have any long term solution if the political status remains the same. This brings me to my view on the current colonial status of Puerto Rico. Initially, puertoricans were granted citizenship in 1917 in order to draft them to fight in World War I Then World War II, the Cuban Missle Crisis and the Cold War with Russia were reasons for the US to keep Puerto Rico. Currently Puerto Rico is mostly a liability to the USA, a port of entrance for illegal immigrants and drugs from Central and South America and a financial burden. Politically it is a threat to the party that thinks puertoricans will vote for the other party, so granting statehood is as handling the elections to the opponent. I think that I am the prototype of the majority of Puertoricans that reside in the mainland, and I have voted for both republican and democratic presidents for the last 32 years. Besides the political and financial stability, I have very selfish reasons to want Puerto Rico to become a state. I have made a life in the mainland but maintain very close ties with the island. I want my children and grandchildren to continue that close relationship and becoming a state will facilitate that while independence will be an obstacle. I should be able to vote in the upcoming referendum this year. The outcome might put me in the position of having to choose between a “constitutional” USA citizenship vs. a Puerto Rican one , so I should have a say on it.

  5. Independence is an option for Puerto Rico, but it is not a popular one. In the last vote on status in Puerto Rico, independence got just about 5% of the vote — statehood got 61%.
    But there was a third option: becoming a Free Associated State.
    Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States now, not a Free Associated State, but there are the Free Associated States such as Palau and the Marshall Islands, and this status is a possibility for Puerto Rico under the constitution. A Free Associated State is an independent nation with a treaty that defines its relationship with the United States one can very much say that the people of Puerto Rico will not favor a Free Associated State and favor Statehood.

  6. No, it was not fair. Many people in PR wanted something other than what the US was willing to offer, namely, an equivalent to the Autonomous Government we had with Spain when the USA invited itself to our things in 1898. That alternative was not on the ballot since the USA would not allow it, so we treat the referendum like the worthless piece of manufactured trash it actually is.

  7. The main reason said plebiscite was fraudulent was because it failed to incorporate what many, if not most, wanted: something comparable to what Puerto Rico had with Spain in 1898 before the USA showed up, in an altogether uninvited way. This comment is an important addition to the foregoing discussion and it must not be deleted in the interest of fairness.

  8. I am originally from Connecticut but have lived-on or otherwise-been-associated-with Puerto Rico for 42 years. I am sorry to
    say that most Puerto Ricans do not appear to view themselves as Americans; one of several cases-in-point; the Puerto
    Rico Olympic Teams. My sense is that US citizenship is more like a Sam’s Club membership; it has value but is not
    intrinsic to their identity. The value systems in-play are also very different from those of most Americans, for better and
    For these reasons I doubt that there will ever be a true Status consensus and that Congress will eventually be forced to act
    unilaterally to grant independence.
    I once asked my Puerto Rican brother-in-law which side Puerto Rico favored in the Falklands War. He responded without
    hesitation; “Argentina.”

  9. It’s about time, we are citizens and looked down by a lot of people that had to come thru elis island. I have been here since 1957. Served in military a family of eight males and six in law enforcement. We get drafted. We are Americans , so stop treating us like step children . It’s time now.

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