National Review: Reagan Worse than Putin on Territorial Rights

In 1982 President Reagan kept an election campaign promise by affirming his personal and official support for a referendum in Puerto Rico on that U.S. territory’s admission to statehood. President Reagan pledged, “This administration will accept whatever choice is made by a majority of the island’s population.”

Reagan’s promise to respect majority rule on statehood for Puerto Rico now has been ridiculed and disparaged by National Review, in an April 30 editorial that singles out and attacks Jeb Bush for agreeing with Reagan about Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination. (“Sorry, Jeb, Puerto Rican Statehood is an Awful Idea”).

NR argues Congress instead should make 3.6 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico the first and only territorial population in U.S. history to be denied statehood unless it wins a “supermajority” in a referendum. On that legally and historically unsustainable premise, NR denounces the historic 2012 referendum in which a 61% majority of voters in Puerto Rico chose statehood.

NR so disdains the idea that U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico deserve equal democratic rights that the editorial alleges the 2012 vote for statehood was rigged by “…a ballot process that would make Vladimir Putin blush.” The only logical interpretation of this argument is that NR believes the 2012 vote was even more shamefully illegitimate than Putin’s staged referendum in Crimea.

Yet, the ballot for the 2012 referendum was precisely identical to the ballot process Reagan approved for territorial status votes in 1983. Specifically, Puerto Rico adopted a two-part ballot with an up-or-down vote on one status option and a second ballot question on alternative future status options. Reagan relied on the same ballot format in 1983 for United Nations observed political status plebiscites for U.S. governed island territories in the Pacific.

In 1984 Reagan certified and Congress accepted majority rule in three Pacific island territories whose freely made status choice President Reagan and Congress honored beginning in 1986, after the ballot process had been scrutinized and upheld in both U.S. federal courts and the United Nations.

But now NR editors who don’t agree with the results favoring statehood denounce majority rule based on the ballot process Reagan approved. So NR irrationally compares the 2012 vote to Putin’s practices in Crimea to discredit a valid act of self-determination by U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico.

Even more outrageously, in doing so NR embraces the absurd and provably anti-democratic argument that ballots left blank in the 2012 status vote should be deducted from the number of votes cast for statehood. By making this astonishing allegation NR aligns itself with Puerto Rico statehood opponents who assert that statehood really got only 44% of the vote, and actually lost the referendum!

Ironically, it is denial that statehood won a majority in the 2012 Puerto Rico vote that truly is akin to election-stealing tactics attributed to Putin in Crimea. That bizarre allegation ignores American and international election law holding that no legal meaning can be ascribed to blank ballots, particularly in the absence of law or ballot instructions notifying voters otherwise.

That is why the Puerto Rico Election Commission dutifully ignored political spin and duly certified that statehood won by a 61% majority vote. That also is why the Reagan administration, Congress, the federal courts and the U.N. did not deduct an even larger percentage of blank ballots in the 1983 political status votes in the Pacific island territories.

More significantly in both legal and political terms, in the 2012 Puerto Rico referendum total ballots cast in favor of statehood on the second question were greater than the total number of votes cast on the first question for the current territorial status. That confirms democratically that the number of blank ballots is irrelevant, because the current status lost an up-or-down vote and statehood won by a decisive majority vote.

NR also misleads readers by asserting statehood has “long been more of a Democratic cause.” To the contrary, President Reagan’s policy on Puerto Rico is consistent with that of every Republican president since Eisenhower, and has been included in the GOP Platform for decades.

In 1998, Speaker Newt Gingrich presided over GOP controlled House approval of a bill offering statehood as a choice for Puerto Rico. Senator Marco Rubio joins Jeb Bush in supporting self-determination for Americans in Puerto Rico, and 2014 Congress appropriated $2.5 million for a federally recognized vote to confirm the 2012 results.

Currently, 104 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are co-sponsors of H.R. 727, a bipartisan bill calling for an up-or-down vote on statehood that will confirm the true aspirations of 3.6 million U.S. citizens in the last large and populous U.S. territory.

NR suppressed these and other facts, a material disservice to readers. Read a full rebuttal of the NR.

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