Anyone remember a few months ago when the whole of the United States was agog with the idea that Puerto Rico voted to become the 51st state? Well, is anyone wondering what actually came of it? Fear not, I’m here to help.
Being a native Puerto Rican myself, the moment when the voting was reported on by newspapers and magazines in the United States, my friends went crazy and bombarded me with questions. Did you hear? What do you think? Will it happen? Is it true?
The only question that actually made me think was the last one—is it true?
Honestly, I was completely at a loss; so I called my parents and asked them. They said the vote had been reported on correctly (if a tad misleadingly, but we’ll get to that) and then they added that the incumbent governor had been ousted by a member of the PPD (Popular Democratic Party). Now that was interesting. But to understand why, we have to go into some political history.
In 1898, the Spanish-American War came to a close and, like a hand-me-down, Puerto Rico was passed from Spain to the United States (with Guam and the Philippine Islands) via the Treaty of Paris for a measly $20 million. Soon afterwards, Puerto Ricans were granted citizenship under the Jones-Shafroth Act even though the entire Puerto Rican House of Delegates voted against it.
Federal Law No. 81-600, which Harry S. Truman signed on July 3rd, 1950 after decades of military rule, afforded Puerto Ricans the right to draft a constitution to set up a functioning government.
The new Constitution was ratified on July 3, 1952 and Puerto Rico became what is known as an Estado Libre Asociado. After this status (referred to in English as a Commonwealth even though it translates to Free Associated State) was created, the politics in Puerto Rico changed.
In the United States, people largely vote based on if they are liberal or conservative. In Puerto Rico, however, people largely vote based on the political status of the island. The major political parties include: the PPD, who want the island to remain an Estado Libre Asociado; the PNP (New Progressive Party), who want the island to become a state; and the PIP (Puerto Rican Independence Party), who want the island to become independent.
As is to be expected, whenever the PNP party is in control, they’ll attempt to have an island-wide vote on the status. You’re given three choices: Status Quo, Statehood, or Independence. Throughout the years, this has gone off without a hitch. The Status Quo has always won out. That is, until November 2012.
This time, the PNP politicians had another plebiscite and, somehow, the status question went from a more-or-less even split down the middle to a whopping 61% vote in favor of statehood. That’s already statistically iffy based on the history of the vote. Coupled with the fact that the PPD beat the PNP in the election cycle essentially across the board (including in the gubernatorial race), it’s enough to leave people like me wondering what’s going on.
It turns out that the status ballot had been changed drastically. Instead of the usual ballot, this one had two questions: 1) Do you agree that Puerto Rico should continue with its current status? Yes/No. 2) Ignore the previous question and select which non-territorial status you’d prefer: Statehood, Independence, Free Associated Sovereign State. Now that’s confusing.
Not only that, but the PPD had also asked for people to leave the second question blank as a way to protest it. Those blank ballots weren’t originally included in the reporting, which led to the 61% number.
But, if the 480,918 ballots left in blank are added onto the votes for “Yes” in the first question (as per the PPD’s political outlook), then the actual vote looks more like this: Happy with the current status? 57.5% YES and 42.5% NO. And, if added to Free Associated Sovereign State (which the PPD also endorsed and, if you recall, is an almost identical translation of Estado Libre Asociado): On non-territorial status? 45 percent for Statehood. 51 percent for Free Associated Sovereign State, and 4 percent for Independence. These values are the lowest it has ever been.
All of this analysis is unnecessary anyway, as Congress has already decided that the vote was a sham. They have effectively decided to not pay attention to the non-binding referendum and simply let Puerto Rico be.
So, in answering the initial question: is it true? I’m going with no.
Rafael Rivero is a senior Zoology major. His columns appear every other Tuesday in the Collegian. Letters and Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org