The Governor of Puerto Rico recently reversed tactics openly obstructing a federally recognized follow up vote to confirm the results of a locally sponsored 2012 referendum on the future political status of Puerto Rico. Over 78% of registered voters among the island’s 3.6 million U.S. citizens cast ballots in that historic act of self-determination.
When the votes were counted 54% of voters rejected continuation of Puerto Rico’s 114 year-old status as a U.S. territory. On a separate ballot question to choose a future status 61% voted for statehood. In response, the Obama administration and Congress agreed to provide $2.5 million for a referendum to resolve the status question, using ballot language certified legally valid by the Attorney General of the United States. This will allow a free and informed act of self-determination that confirms the meaning of the choices voters made in 2012.
The Governor’s decision to stop opposing a democratic vote for his fellow citizens also suspends at least for now his political party’s alliance with the small local independence faction in opposition to a federally sponsored referendum.
That dubious anti-statehood coalition was ominous because the Independence Party rejects democratic majority rule on status – unless it favors independence. Independence leaders argue that less than 5% support for separate nationhood in all past status votes is due to ideological incompetence of voters in need of political re-education. So it was stunning that the 2012 vote to end the current status so rattled the Governor’s party that it embraced the anti-democratic tactics of pro-independence ideologues seeking to derail a federally sponsored vote and disenfranchise statehood voters.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative in the U.S. Congress, who was re-elected in 2012 with more votes than the current Governor or the ballot option favoring the current territorial status, is advocating an up or down vote on statehood as the next step in the self-determination process.
Historically and constitutionally he is right, an up or down vote on statehood would be consistent with federal policy for other U.S. territories that became states (i.e. Hawaii) or independent (i.e. the Philippines). After all, the current territorial status got an up or down vote in a separate question on the 2012 ballot and was rejected by the people.
In the same referendum voters freely made a fully informed choice preferring statehood to replace the undemocratic “commonwealth” system of territorial government. Panicked by that result, the Governor’s party, which controls the local legislature, challenged the 2012 vote results as certified by the Puerto Rico Elections Commission.
Thus, the Governor’s party claimed the 61% vote for statehood should be reduced by the number of ballots on which voters made a choice on the first question current status but did not make a choice between statehood and nationhood on the second question, and on that basis declared that statehood failed to garner a majority vote!
Under local, U.S. and international suffrage law, blank ballots are not assigned legal meaning, counted in result totals, or given official interpretation. Unless otherwise lawfully prescribed by instructions to voters, multiple-choice ballots with at least one option selected are valid votes. That is why a large number of blank votes properly were not counted in votes for former U.S. governed territories that became states, such as the State of Washington, or sovereign nations, such as the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
The real measure of the Governor’s belief in democracy is whether he and his party accept that the governed have withdrawn consent to the current status. That 2012 vote demands a real status solution, not merely statutory gimmicks to prolong territorial status under the label of “commonwealth,” enacted (and subject to amendment or repeal) by a Congress in which Puerto Rico is denied equal participation based on equal rights of citizenship. The “commonwealth” can never be a substitute for a constitutionally defined status of statehood, and nationhood lacks democratic support.
Instead of repeating the 2012 referendum, an up or down vote on statehood now is the most democratic way to confirm the meaning of the 2012 vote.
This post was originally written in English and may be being auto-translated by Google.