Will Puerto Rico become No. 51?

Finally, much of the buzz from the most recent election is beginning to die down. Most American citizens have moved on and gotten back to their day-to-day lives.

But there is one interesting issue that while previously overshadowed by Obama’s re-election, is starting to be reported on by the media. It is an election result, a referendum voted on by American citizens. But oddly enough, not by citizens of any U.S. State.

Puerto Rico has once again found itself in the national spotlight, however briefly. The attention is due to a recent referendum voted on by its citizens, which at first glance seems to indicate a desire to become America’s fifty-first state.

Puerto Rico started under United States sovereignty during the course of the Spanish-American War. It then acted as a colony of the United States for over 50 years, before finally being declared an unincorporated territory, a status it still holds today.

As an unincorporated territory, Puerto Rico joins the likes of Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands.

Unincorporated territories reside in something of a legal grey area, their citizens are considered U.S. Citizens and they are subject to federal laws, but they still lack direct congressional representation and are unable to vote in presidential elections.

There are many other oddities in how they relate to the rest of the United States, such as tax exemptions or their own Olympic team.

Puerto Rico also has its own constitutional republic, and for the most part governs itself.

It would seem natural that the people of Puerto Rico then would want to be United States citizens. After all, Americans have a long and storied history of fighting tooth and nail for proper representation in government.

At first glance, many news outlets have reported that Puerto Rico’s people had voted to become a state. The truth is much more complex.

There was a referendum held on Nov. 6 that put a question to the Puerto Rican people in two parts.
The first asked whether voters favored the island’s current status as an unincorporated territory. This resulted in 54 percent of voters stating they were dissatisfied with the status quo, and 46 percent saying they were satisfied with the island’s current status.

The second part, the one causing a great deal of confusion, asked whether Puerto Ricans preferred becoming a U.S. state, an independent country or a freely associated state. A freely associated state is one which receives aid and protection from a larger country, such as Vatican City or Monaco.

Puerto Ricans voted overwhelmingly in favor of statehood, with 61 percent voting in favor of statehood, 33 percent in favor of free association, and only five percent in favor of independence.

This would seem like a win for statehood, right? Wrong. These results discounted the massive number of ballots left blank regarding the second question, making the actual percentage of total ballots in favor of statehood add up to only 44 percent total when the blank ballots are included.

While this still shows a growing urge in Puerto Rico to become a state, there’s no way we will be seeing it achieve statehood anytime soon.

Even if Puerto Rico had voted in favor of becoming a state, it can only become a state via a vote from Congress, and the currently Republican controlled House would fight tooth and nail to block additional Democratic electoral votes (which the largely liberal Puerto Rico would be sure to bring with them).