Rep. Joe Pittman of Pennsylvania was elected with 17% voter turnout. Senator Markey of Massachusetts won in an election that brought out 27% of the voters. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves won an election that tempted just 29% of eligible voters to come out and speak their minds. New York’s Governor Cuomo was chosen in a primary with just 9.3% of registered Democratic voters. Mayor Bill de Blasio became Mayor of New York City in an election with 14% turnout.

Nobody suggested that any of these winners should not get to keep his seat. All of them were elected.

These are not just a handful of unusual cases.

2012 presidential primary votes averaged 17.3%. 2014 midterm elections across the country averaged just 36.7% voter turnout.

We could continue, but the point should be clear by now: low turnout does not affect the results of votes in the United States.

The 2017 referendum

In 2017, Puerto Rico held a vote on the Island’s political status. Voters had the opportunity to choose among statehood, continuing as a territory, and independence. More than 97% of voters chose statehood.

That’s a pretty clear outcome.

It didn’t surprise anyone. The Independence Party, which has never managed to get as much as 6% of the vote, obviously didn’t expect to win. The Commonwealth Party has won in the past, but its victories were gained on the strength of a myth — the idea that Puerto Rico is not “a mere territory” and that the federal government would negotiate a special status for Puerto Rico: enhanced commonwealth.

In recent years, every branch of the federal government has said clearly that enhanced commonwealth “is not a viable option” and that a vote for “commonwealth” is a vote for continued territory status. That is not a popular option.

Polls before and after the vote showed that the majority of Puerto Rico’s residents favored statehood. They still do.

The solution, for anti-statehood parties, was to boycott the election. Nobody boycotts a vote they can win, but calling a boycott and then harping on voter turnout allowed the anti-statehood factions to confuse people.

The turnout was 23%. That’s a higher percentage than the turnout for Mayor Bill de Blasio or Governor Cuomo. It’s higher than the presidential primaries in 2012. It’s higher than plenty of elections of senators and congresspeople.

Yet news coverage focused on the turnout, not the 97% of voters who chose statehood once again.

Did focusing on low turnout work?

Enough people were confused that Congress was able to say that it’s not clear that Puerto Rico really wants statehood. This took place before the 2017 hurricanes, when fewer than half of stateside Americans knew that Puerto Ricans were citizens.

That situation has changed, as the infographic below shows.

More legislators are aware of Puerto Rico now than in the past. This is important. Because Puerto Rico can’t change her status alone. Congress must take action.

Help educate the people who represent you in Congress. Contact your legislators and make sure they know that you support Puerto Rico’s right to equality through statehood.



One response

  1. During the 2008 Presidential Election, I volunteer to serve as an election judge in my State. It was a Novel experience that became a powerful lesson beyond my wildest dreams. A young man reached out to me and ask me if it was ok to take his wife’s photographs as she proudly (in tears) cast her first vote as a new American Citizen – She had never been allowed to vote in her country. I asked the election supervisor if it was ok, and the young man proceeded to document the moment. I have voted in every election since my 20’s, but I have to admit, I don’t think I truly understood the significance of voting until that very moment. As students of philosophy would argue: “ does not tyranny spring from democracy” ?
    In today’s political environment it is easy for all of us to experience voter apathy/ fatigue And frankly disgust. We are only human- politicians who show up before an election to promise what they never deliver, nepotism and corruption in every political party and the incomprehensibly odious Demagogic rhetoric to confuse voters and manipulate the democratic process.
    I do not disagree with the premise of this article. However, voting is our right and responsibility. We vote for officials and we vote for issues. The USA Constitution Has stood the test of time, because our founding fathers understood the importance of separation of powers, interpretative flexibility and most of all – that the true power of our country is With all of us – The Citizens of the Republic. Thus far, congress lobbyist have been effective blocking PR Statehood. However, Congress cannot continue to dodge the rights of the Local PR USA citizens – our message is clear and undeniable through our activism and our votes.

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