Voter Suppression? | Puerto Rico 51st

“Voter suppression is typically about blocking voters from the ballot box in order to guarantee the result desired by those in power. A new variant is now creeping up in Congress, this time from the Democratic side, in the form of option suppression,” writes José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral in El Nuevo Dia. “A compromise bill is being concocted for a Puerto Rico status referendum that would assure a statehood win by disqualifying the current Commonwealth status as an option.”

Disqualification

We respectfully disagree. First, it is not the case that a compromise bill would “disqualify the current Commonwealth status.”

Here’s why:

  1. The current status is not “Commonwealth” in any meaningful way. Puerto Rico is a territory belonging to the United States. The Department of Justice insists that remaining a territory should be on any ballot, and that “Commonwealth” in the sense of a special extended commonwealth status should not be on the ballot.
  2. No compromise bill could disqualify the “Commonwealth” status, because it has already been disqualified as unconstitutional by the Department of Justice, the Supreme Court, Congress, and the office of the president.

Voter suppression

It is not voter suppression to have on the ballot only the options that are actually possible in real life. Here are some options that won’t be on the ballot:

  • Trading Puerto Rico for Greenland
  • Ceding Puerto Rico back to Spain
  • Making Puerto Rico part of the state of New York
  • Turning Puerto Rico into a monarchy headed by Elon Musk
  • Giving Puerto Rico to Atlantis

We could go on, of course. The ballot options should not be every single conceivable option. They should be the options that are available under the U.S. Constitution.

In fact, it would be most useful if they were the options which Congress — the group that has the final say over Puerto Rico’s status — would actually approve and implement.

Congress’s responsibility

Congress has made it clear which options are available under the Constitution:

  • Territory status
  • Independence
  • Statehood

Congress should now make it clear which of those options it will implement if they are chosen. They should commit to admit Puerto Rico as a state if voters once again choose statehood. If they are not willing to admit Puerto Rico, they should say so frankly.

Equally, they should say clearly whether they would accept a Declaration of Independence from Puerto Rico. However, Puerto Rico has always had the choice of declaring independence without the agreement of the United States. It would be useful if Congress clarified what the response would be if this happened. It would also be useful to get a sense of whether Congress would be willing to negotiate a Compact of Free Association with Puerto Rico, like the treaties between the United States and the three current COFA nations. Since one Congress cannot make promises on behalf of a future Congress, though, the current Congress can’t commit to what such a compact would include.

We already know that Congress will allow Puerto Rico to continue as a territory. Puerto Rico has been a territory for more than a century and will continue in that status indefinitely if Congress takes no action.

None of this has anything to do with voter suppression.

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