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Puerto Rico Seeks U.S. Statehood

By Derek
November 8th, 2012 - 12:51 PM

In a non-binding referendum on Tuesday, Puerto Ricans showed interest in changing the island’s status from a U.S. territory to a U.S. state. In the vote, Puerto Ricans were asked two questions.

The first question asked if Puerto Rico should keep its current status as a self-governing commonwealth. The commonwealth allows Puerto Ricans living on the islands to be U.S. citizens, but they cannot vote for president. They are, however, represented by a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives.

54% (922,374 people) said they would like the change to occur, while 46% (786,749 people) said they wanted to keep the status quo.

The second question asked Puerto Ricans to choose among three options, regardless of their answer to the first question. Their options were to choose U.S. Statehood, sovereign free association, or independence.

61% (800,000 people) voted for statehood, 33% (437,000 people) for a sovereign free association, and 5% (72,560 people) for independence. The choice of alternatives was left blank on one third of all the ballots cast nearly 500,000 people).

President Barack Obama expressed support for the referendum and said he respects the will of the people in the event of a clear majority.

58% (nearly 5 million) of Puerto Ricans live on the U.S. mainland have full voting rights. Puerto Rico Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock said that he thinks “people just came to realize that the current relationship simply does not create the number of jobs that we need. When you have a political status that scares away half of your population, it is time to reject that political status.”

What now?
The results of the referendum will be sent to the White House and the congressional leadership for further discussion about adding Puerto Rico to the union. It is not clear what the final result will be. If Congress allows Puerto Rico to become the 51st state of the United States, Puerto Ricans will have the right to vote in all U.S. elections. They will also have to pay federal taxes, something they are currently excused from doing.

Who has control?
Pro-statehood Govenor Luis Fortuno (Republican) was beat by Alejandro Garcia Padilla (Democrat) in a thin margin on Tuesday. Padilla supports the island’s current political status. The future of Puerto Rico’s political status will depend heavily on the leader of the territory.

The U.S. gained Puerto Rico when Spain lost the island in the Spanish-American War. Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory for 114 years. Its people have been U.S. citizens since 1917. There are roughly 4 million residents in Puerto Rico who are American citizens. In 2011, President Obama made an official visit to Puerto Rico, the first visit made by a president in 50 years.