Puerto Rican voters back statehood in questioned referendum

Posted June 12, 2017

Puerto Ricans overwhelmingly chose statehood on Sunday in a non-binding vote in a vote that will likely change absolutely nothing with regards to the USA territory's status.

"I'm not voting. The government has spent millions of dollars on this campaign hoping that statehood wins, but even if it does, the U.S. Congress won't want to do anything about it", 54-year-old Felix Salasarar told reporters.

It did not act on the previous referendum's result, which was the first time ever a majority of valid votes were cast for statehood in the former Spanish colony.

Were Puerto Rico to be allowed to join the United States on equal terms, it would be the first to do so since Hawaii became the 50th state in August 1959. Although the U.S. DOJ did not offer any reasons for not certifying the plebiscite, the most likely reason is a dispute over the language of the ballot, which was the subject of a memorandum the DOJ sent to the Governor of Puerto Rico in April.

It was the lowest level of participation in any election in Puerto Rico since 1967, noted Carlos Vargas Ramos, an associate with the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in NY.

"Supporters of statehood did not seem enthusiastic about this plebiscite as they were five years ago", he said. However, the two main parties had pushed for a boycott of the vote.

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Those who remain behind have been hit with new taxes and higher utility bills on an island where food is 22 percent more expensive than the US mainland and public services are 64 percent more expensive.

Fifty-four percent of voters in that referendum backed changing Puerto Rico's current territorial status.

Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917, however, as residents of a commonwealth territory rather than a state they can't vote for president in the USA general election.

Aside from the 97 percent voting for statehood this time around, a little more than 1.5 percent voted in favor of independence from the United States, while 1.3 percent wanted to preserve status quo and remain a territory. In a similar referendum in 2012, before the island's financial troubles deepened, 61% voted for statehood.

Moreover, this plebiscite was not authorized or certified by the U.S. Department of Justice or Congress, which throws its impact into question. The participation rate was almost 23 percent with roughly 2.26 million registered voters.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello greets people before voting at the San Jose Academy during the fifth referendum in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, June 11, 2017.

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Despite the overwhelming vote to join the USA, nearly 80% of Puerto Rican voters avoided casting a ballot.

Congress, the only body that can approve new states, will ultimately decide whether the status of the USA commonwealth changes.

New Yorker David Aldarondo, now living in Puerto Rico, shows his shirt of Puerto Rican nationalist Ramon Emeterio Betances, after voting in favour of independence during the fifth referendum on the island's status. Those who remain behind have been hit with new taxes and higher utility bills on an island where food is 22 percent more expensive than the US mainland and public services are 64 percent more expensive. The Partido Popular Democrático, which broadly advocates the continuation of the current colonial arrangement whereby the island's 3.4 million people have U.S. citizenship but can not vote in federal elections, said the ballot was flawed from the outset.

The current territorial status option received 6,821 votes, or 1.32 percent.

Still the result is hardly as convincing as Rosselló claims.

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