Puerto Rico to Vote for Possible Statehood Yet Again
By La Prensa Staff
Puerto Ricans still living on the island territory won’t help
decide the U.S. president, but their own futures could
drastically change with next week’s November general election.
Statehood is on the ballot for the sixth time—but this time, the
outcome could actually mean something.
Puerto Ricans go to the polls to decide their next governor—and
will be asked a simple yes or no ballot question:
"Should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted into the Union as a
Of course, that won’t automatically grant statehood. There is a
long process from there. If the referendum is approved, the
governor would appoint a seven-member commission to represent
the island territory in matters and negotiations related to
achieving statehood, develop a transition plan, then present
that plan to Congress and the President. But the ballot measure
cannot compel Congress to act on statehood for Puerto Rico,
making the vote non-binding.
On the flip side,
on the referendum would mean that a seven-member commission
would be appointed to negotiate with the federal government for
the free association or independence of Puerto Rico. There would
be no additional federal aid for the bankrupt island.
However, organizers contend this is the best chance they’ve ever
had at achieving statehood. A few political stars would have to
Pro-statehood gubernatorial candidate Pedro Pierluisi
must win the election, as his opponent opposes statehood. If
Democrats also take control of the U.S. Congress, the Caribbean
island might have a shot at becoming a state.
Puerto Rican voters also approved statehood referendums in 2012
and 2017. But nothing happened in the direction of adding a 51st
star to the American flag following those votes, except more
disaster for the territory of 3.2 million people. Since that
last vote, Puerto Rico’s billion dollar debt crisis, devastation
caused by hurricanes, earthquakes, and the mass exodus of more
than 500,000 residents to the mainland have all put a national
spotlight on the territory’s tough relationship with the U.S.
If granted statehood, Puerto Rico would be eligible for two
senators and five representatives—enough to tip the scales of
power in Congress. That’s enough to spark in-fighting by
Democrats and Republicans.
“Nationally, there is this impression that Puerto Rico is
Democrat, and that those two additional seats would allow the
Democrats to control the Senate. This has created a window of
opportunity for us in the Democratic Party,” William
Villafane, a local senator and the referendum coordinator
for the pro-statehood New Progressive Party told Bloomberg
News. “In reality, I think Puerto Rico would be a swing
state or a battle ground state.”
Then add the island territory’s financial distress. With a
poverty rate of 43 percent, Puerto Rico would be the poorest
state—even far behind Mississippi at 20 percent. Puerto Rico
also would be the most financially distressed, racking up $74
billion in debt before imploding into bankruptcy three years
ago. That issue is still in court as the territory figures out
how to cut its debts and fix a destitute pension system that
owes current and future retirees a staggering $50 billion.
With a poverty rate of 43%, Puerto Rico would be the poorest
U.S. state — far behind Mississippi at 20%. It would also be the
most financially distressed. Puerto Rico and its agencies racked
up $74 billion of debt before collapsing into bankruptcy in
2017. It’s still in court working out how to cut its debts and
fix a broke pension system that owes current and future retirees
If granted statehood, Puerto Rico would be the first to join the
Union since Alaska and Hawaii in 1959.