The first part asked all voters if they favor Puerto Rico’s current status as a U.S. territory. More than 900,000 voters, or 54 percent, responded “no” to the first question, saying they were not content with the current status.
All voters then had the opportunity to choose in the second question from three options: statehood, independence, or “sovereign-free association,” a designation that would give more autonomy to the island of nearly four million people.
About 1.3 million voters cast their choice. Nearly 800,000, or 61 percent of those who expressed an opinion, chose statehood—the first time a majority was reached after three previous referendums on the issue over the past 45 years.
“As laid out in the Declaration of Independence, our country recognizes that government derives its power from the consent of the governed,” said Rep. Ramos. “The people of Puerto Rico voted to change that, and that should be respected.”
Rep. Ramos also pointed out that Puerto Rico has been governed by the U.S since 1898. The territory’s people were extended US-American citizenship on March 2, 1917 as part of the Jones-Shafroth Act under President Woodrow Wilson.
“For nearly a century, these citizens have served in the branches of our armed forces defending our freedom. Now, through their vote, they have asked for statehood, with all of the rights and responsibilities this brings,” he said. “Using the guidance of our forefathers, it is the duty of Congress to respect the call of U.S. citizens for statehood, as they have done since the 18th century. This resolution asks Congress to do exactly that.”
The position taken by Rep. Ramos certainly will be popular among his constituency. One of every four Lorain residents is a Latino; one in five is of Puerto Rican descent, according to the latest U.S. Census figures.
Rep. Ramos is a Lorain native who graduated from Lorain Admiral King High School and The Ohio State University. He is a former caseworker at the Lorain County Department of Job and Family Services who also served as a legislative aide to his predecessor, Rep. Joseph F. Koziura (D-Lorain), and as a senior policy and budget analyst for the Ohio House Democratic leadership.
Nearly half a million voters, however, left the question of statehood blank as a form of protest against the Puerto Rico plebiscite. That means only 45 percent of the total voters who answered the question favored statehood.
That more modest figure is consistent with three other referendums held since 1950. Previous referendums were defeated in 1967, 1993, and 1998. But outgoing Gov. Luis Fortuño, a driving force behind the statehood movement, has insisted a majority of Puerto Ricans backed statehood in the vote and he’s asked President Barack Obama and US Congress to admit the island based on the result.
Overall, about 94,965 Ohio residents, roughly .8 percent of the entire population or 26.8 percent of the Latino population, identify themselves as Puerto Rican, according to U.S. census data from 2010. Other states, such as Florida and New York, have much higher populations that hail from Puerto Rico—so it may be surprising to some than an Ohio lawmaker appears to be the first to vocalize the issue of statehood.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is researching the fiscal effects of Puerto Rico becoming a state following the plebiscite. The GAO specifically has requested predictions on the likely enrollment levels in federal programs such as Social Security Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) upon the granting of statehood.
This would not be the first federal cost estimate about Puerto Rico. A 2009 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report estimated a $9.4 billion price tag for making Puerto Rico the 51st state.
The Lexington Institute, a political think tank, pegged that cost much higher, at more than $25.6 billion, because Puerto Rico is primarily Spanish speaking. The Lexington Institute report stated the U.S. would have to transform itself into an entirely new nationwide system of “official bilingualism.”
But the arguments for statehood will be as much an emotional plea as based on factual evidence. Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, the island territory’s lone, non-voting member of Congress, recently made a heartfelt speech on the floor of the US House vowing to pursue statehood among his voting congressional colleagues.
“Not one of my stateside colleagues in Congress would accept this response for their constituents. So they should respect that my constituents no longer accept it either,” Pierluisi said. “The rejection of territory status fundamentally changes the terms of this debate. After this vote, the question is not whether but when Puerto Rico will cease to be a territory and will have a fully democratic status. Defenders of the status quo may obstruct change in the short term, but in a democracy, the will of the people ultimately prevails.”
While the argument of whether Puerto Rico voters sent a clear mandate will rage on for months, Pierluisi made it clear his belief that “the people of Puerto Rico have spoken” and he will work “to make certain that their voice is heard loud and clear.”
“Some wish to downplay the results of the plebiscite by citing the voters who left the second question blank, but this argument does not withstand scrutiny,” he said. “In our democracy, outcomes are determined by ballots properly cast. Power rests with the citizen who votes, not the one who stays home or who refuses to choose from among the options provided.”