Puerto Rico is a territory belonging to the United States. As a territory, Puerto Rico has just one representative in the U.S.Congress: the Resident Commissioner. The current Resident Commissioner is Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon. She represents Puerto Rico in Congress, speaking for 3.2 million people while her colleagues represent fewer than 600,000 people each.
The U.S. Congress has two parts: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Gonzalez-Colon is a Member of the House of Representatives. She can introduce bills and participate in debates and discussions. Under the current administration, the Resident Commissioner can also vote in the House. However, if the vote makes a difference to the outcome, the Resident Commissioner’s vote is not counted.
As a state, Puerto Rico will have about four Members of the House. The exact number depends on the population of each state. States have different numbers of representatives depending on their populations.
As a state, Puerto Rico will have two senators. Each state has two senators. However, territories have none. Puerto Rico currently has no senators, and no voice in the U.S. Senate.
Where will Puerto Rico’s representatives come from?
The current statehood admissions bill, HR 1522, explains how Puerto Rico will choose representatives to go to Congress.
Once Congress offers statehood to Puerto Rico, the Island will hold a vote to ratify statehood. All voters in Puerto Rico can vote whether or not to accept statehood. If the voters say no, Puerto Rico will continue as a territory. If Puerto Rico votes for statehood again, the President of the United States will certify the vote and officially inform the Governor of Puerto Rico that Puerto Rico has been admitted.
The bill then says that “the Governor shall, within 30 days after receipt of the official notification of such approval, issue a proclamation for the election of Senators and Representatives in Congress.”
That proclamation will include the dates for electing representatives, as well as any details on the election.
Two senators will be elected by popular vote. No candidate can run for both Senate positions; the elections will be separate.
The Members of the House will also be elected.
Congress goes through a process called “apportionment” which determines how many representatives each state can have in the House. This is based on national census data about the population in each state.
HR 1522 specifies the number Puerto Rico should begin with: “Puerto Rico shall be entitled to the same number of Representatives as the State whose most recent Census population was closest to, but less than, that of Puerto Rico, and such Representatives shall be in addition to the membership of the House of Representatives as now prescribed by law.”
Right now, according to World Population Review, that state would be Nevada. Nevada currently has four Members of Congress, so Puerto Rico would also have four.
When territories have become states in the past, they have entered Congress with different numbers of representatives. Some have had just one. In any case, the next time Congress goes through apportionment, the number can change. At that point, the new state is treated just like the other states.
After the representatives have been chosen, the elections will be certified and the names of the representatives will be sent to the President of the United States and to the leaders of the House and Senate.
The Constitution contains an Elections Clause which says this:
“The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations” (Article I, section 4).
This means that the state of Puerto Rico will make its own laws about elections. Congress has the right to change a state’s elections laws. Usually, this refers to country-level laws like the requirement that elections all take place on the same Tuesday in November, or the law that forbids making people pay to vote.
As a state, Puerto Rico will have the same rights and responsibilities as every other state.
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