Suzanne Bibby, Director of Government Relations Published on 12 November 2012
November 13, 2012
By Suzanne Bibby
On Election Day this year, for the very first time in its history, Puerto Ricans produced a majority vote in favor of becoming the 51st U.S. State. The non-binding referendum was made up of two questions: 1) Do you want to change Puerto Rico’s current status with the United States? and 2) Which new status do you prefer?
On the first question, 54% of voters indicated that they favored a change of status, while 46% voted for no change. The result of the second question produced 61% of voters choosing statehood, 33% choosing “sovereign free association,” and 6% for total independence from the United States.
Although at first glance it appears that a clear majority, 61%, of Puerto Ricans favor statehood, the devil is in the details. When you tally the number of voters who chose statehood and compare it to the total number of voters who chose something other than statehood—including independence, free association, or left the question blank altogether out of protest—what you find is that there is no clear majority in favor of statehood at all. 802,000 people voted for statehood, but 978,000 people voted for something other than statehood or not at all. This means that of the 1.7 million voters who participated in the referendum, more people (175,000 more) opposed statehood than supported it. When you account for the total number of voters, only 44.6% chose statehood.
These numbers certainly call into question the “clear majority” that the pro-statehood party claims to have achieved. Many believe that the results represent an overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans united against statehood.
“Statehood won a victory without precedent but it’s an artificial victory,” argues Angel Isreal Rivera Ortiz, a political science professor at the University of Puerto Rico. “It reflects a divided and confused electorate that is not clear on where it’s going.” Many believe, as Rivera does, that neither Congress nor President Obama will view this referendum as a clear mandate from the Puerto Rican people.
The fact that a majority of Puerto Rican voters oppose statehood was reiterated in their votes to oust pro-statehood Governor Luis Fortuno from office after just one term. Popular Democratic Party candidate Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who wants Puerto Rico to preserve its semi-autonomous commonwealth status, won the governorship and his anti-statehood Popular Democratic Party also regained control of both chambers of the Puerto Rican congress.
For now, the future of the statehood effort is uncertain, but the certified results of the referendum will be sent to the White House and the congressional leadership, and it would be up to them to begin the process of possibly admitting Puerto Rico into the union.
ProEnglish has long been anticipating this deceptive outcome which is why a week before the Election, ProEnglish sent a coalition letter to the U.S. Congress urging them to include specific English language requirements in any legislation to admit Puerto Rico as the 51st State. Twenty-one signatories join ProEnglish on the letter, including the principles of several influential national grassroots organizations, former Congressmen, and Tea Party leaders. You can read the letter here.