Puerto Rico plebiscite

One year ago today, voters in Puerto Rico chose statehood for the third time in a status plebiscite. The official results:

  • Yes on statehood: 53%
  • No on statehood: 48%

Here are some things you should know about that vote.

Anti-statehood forces campaigned for a No vote

655,505 people voted for statehood. Turnout for the vote was normal. In 2016, 55.45% of registered voters turned out. In 2020, 54.27% voted in the plebiscite. The population of Puerto Rico fell in those four years. However, low turnout has never invalidated a vote in the U.S. Just over half of registered voters in the U.S. typically show up for presidential elections, and fewer than 40% usually vote in midterm elections. Voter turnout is literally never a substantive issue in the Unit3ed States. In this case, it’s not an issue at all.

In 2017, anti-statehood parties called for a boycott of the status vote that took place the year. Obviously, they would not have asked for a boycott if they believed they could win. The plan was to discredit the vote by claiming that all non-voters would have voted against statehood. This trick worked surprisingly well after the 2012 vote. But, according to El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, only 7% of those they surveyed said that they had boycotted the vote. Others said that they didn’t bother to vote because it was obvious that statehood would win, that Congress hadn’t officially approved the plebiscite, or that they simply hadn’t gotten around to it.

In 2020, the anti-statehood forces worked hard to convince voters to choose “No” at the ballots. Those who would have voted for independence, for continued territory status, or for the impossible “enhanced commonwealth” option all had the opportunity to vote against statehood. Nonetheless, statehood won.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida said it clearly: “The ballot was fair and those who voted overwhelmingly chose statehood. In our democracy, only those who show up to vote get counted.”

Enchanced commonwealth was never an option

The “commonwealth” party has claimed that leaving their fantasy option off the ballot disenfranchises those voters who might want that. This is as reasonable as saying that leaving becoming a colony of Spain off the ballot disenfranchises voters. The United States government has repeatedly said that “enhanced commonwealth” is not a viable option. When that option won in a previous plebiscite, Congress expressed regret that Puerto Rico’s voters had been duped into voting for it.

The only viable options for Puerto Rico’s status under the U.S. Constitution are statehood and independence. Nonetheless, supporters of any other option besides statehood had the chance to vote against statehood.

Opponents of statehood cannot win a plebiscite. They try instead to discredit the results as statehood repeatedly wins.

In fact, all three of the plebiscites that have taken place in the 21st century have been democratic acts off self-determination calling for statehood. There is no uncertainty about the wishes of the majority of people in Puerto Rico.

Does the 2020 plebiscite matter?

In a sense, the referendum vote doesn’t make a difference to Puerto Rico’s status. A plebiscite is a non-binding vote intended to show the will of the people. The territory of Alabama became a state without a referendum, and Congress could admit Puerto Rico without a vote.

But members of the federal government, including President Biden, have repeatedly said that they will support the will of the people of Puerto Rico. The voters have chosen statehood three times. The territory’s elected leaders have officially requested statehood. It is time for action.

Please contact your legislators and let them know that you want them to be on the right side of history. Ask them to support HR 1522, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Bill, and its Senate companion, S780.



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