The opponents of statehood, knowing from polls and previous votes that statehood is now the most popular status in Puerto Rico, are forced into the strategy of trying to discredit the status plebiscites. They can’t win just by calling for the vote and relaxing — they know that theirs is not the majority position, and that they won’t win naturally. So we can’t be surprised that they are already working to discredit the November 3rd referendum.
Javier Hernandez wrote at The Weekly Journal that “The Trump administration also invalidated the upcoming ‘Statehood Yes/No’ referendum in a letter, stating that the United States would ignore the results.”
This is not true.
Jeffrey Rosen of the Department of Justice sent a letter to the Chairman of the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission saying that they would not direct Congress to obligate $2.5 million for the upcoming status vote.
The word “ignore” is not used at any point in the letter, nor is there any statement of that kind. The concluding statement is simple and clear: “For the reasons stated above, the Department of Justice is unable to notify Congress that it approves of the materials for the November 3 plebiscite and is unable to obligate the appropriated funds.”
How can, “We won’t give you the money” become “We are going to ignore the results”? The technical term for the inaccurate statement is “a lie.” We’re seeing that kind of lie in social media and hearing it in conversations. The DOJ did not forbid the referendum. They don’t even have the power to do so.
One of the issues here is the 2014 law which allowed Puerto Rico to use $2.5 billion to fund and educate voters for a new status plebiscite. The Obama administration said that Puerto Rico could have these funds only when the U.S. Department of Justice agreed that the materials, including the ballots, were consistent with the U.S. Constitution.
For example, “enhanced commonwealth” could not be one of the options, since it has been declared unconstitutional.
This is why the Department of Justice is involved. They refused to accept the 2017 ballot, and they also have refused to accept the 2020 ballot. In both cases, one of the main reasons given has been their feeling that they weren’t given enough time.
The PROMESA law specifically mentions Puerto Rico’s political status:
SEC. 402. RIGHT OF PUERTO RICO TO DETERMINE ITS FUTURE POLITICAL STATUS.
Nothing in this Act shall be interpreted to restrict Puerto Rico’s right to determine its future political status, including by conducting the plebiscite as authorized by Public Law 113–76.
The word “including” in this section means that gaining those funds and using them to pay for the plebiscite is a possible method of determining the future political status of the territory. The territory does not require permission too hold a plebiscite. It only needs permission to use the money Congress approved for the process.
Supreme Court decision
The suggestion that the plebiscite was forbidden or would be ignored wasn’t enough of an effort to discredit the vote.
Three candidates for office also sued the State Elections Commission chairman, claiming that the yes/no vote for statehood was a ruse to get statehood supporters to the polls. They asked the district court to declare the one unlawful because it violated due process.
Due process is a requirement that laws be applied equally to everyone. In the context of voting, this usually means that voters can’t be refused their right to vote because, for example, they can’t read English or can’t pay a special voting tax.
You have to pay close attention here, because the argument was somewhat confusing. The claim was that holding a yes/no vote on statehood might encourage estadistas to go out and vote. This — the possibility of encouraging voter turnout — would, they said, interfere with the election of the Resident Commissioner. Because people who favored statehood might go vote yes.
Why this would not equally encourage people who do not want statehood to go vote no was not mentioned.
Nonetheless, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruled that the vote is valid under the Constitution.
The yes/no vote on statehood is valid. Please ask your representatives to support the Soto Resolution calling on Congress to respect the vote.