Despite low turnout, Puerto Ricans vote to become 51st state

Global Business

The Caribbean island of Puerto Rico voted Sunday to become the 51st U.S. state. But that doesn’t mean it will happen.

While there was a strong majority in favor, most Puerto Ricans stayed home. And Washington may not be willing to consider the vote.

CGTN’s Nitza Soledad Perez reports from San Juan.

Ninety-seven percent of votes favored becoming a state over independence or remaining a territory of the US. But that’s only part of the story. Voter turn-out was just 23 percent – likely the result of a call by statehood opposition groups — to boycott the non-binding process.

“We will now take these results to Washington, D.C., with the strong support of not only a duly executed electoral exercise,” Puerto Ricos’ Governor, Ricardo Rossello said.

The opposition rejects the governor’s claim. For them such a low turnout renders the vote invalid. Electoral Commissioner and member of the Independence Party, Maria de Lourdes Santiago, explained, “Close to half a million people voted. In other electoral processes almost 1.5 million voters participated. 728,000 people voted for statehood back in 1998. What happened here it’s a complete disaster. This is a blunt repudiation to this plebiscite and statehood.”

This is the fifth time that Puerto Ricans have gone to the polls to redefine their relationship with the U.S. None of these elections has elicited a clear majority call for statehood.

In spite of this, Puerto Rico’s governor is enacting what’s known as the “Tennessee Plan” – which involves sending a congressional delegation to Washington-based on this vote – and essentially demanding they be given seats in Congress. Named for the unorthodox route Tennessee used to become a state more than 200 years ago, it was successfully copied by six other states – with Alaska the most recent in 1959. For many, this is the moment for Puerto Rico to claim what they see as its rightful standing in Washington.

“We want to be equal partners, we want our equal shares of responsibility, but we want our rights as well. We want to vote for the commander-in-chief that sends our brother and sisters to war and we want full representation in Congress and we want our representatives in Congress to be able to vote on the measures that directly impact our lives,” Francisco Domenech, a lawyer with Politank  said.

The U.S. Congress is the only body that can approve statehood. And most observers say — between the island’s financial crisis — and the state of current politics in Washington – it’s highly unlikely lawmakers would allow Puerto Rico into the union now. 

Luis Fortuno, former Governor of Puerto Rico, discusses the island’s recent plebiscite vote

CGTN’s Rachelle Akuffo spoke to Luis Fortuno, former governor of Puerto Rico, about the Carribean island’s prospects of becoming the 51st state of the United States. The U.S. territory voted for statehood on Sunday, though the plebiscite is non-binding, and still requires agreement from the U.S. Congress.