Puerto Ricans overwhelmingly chose statehood on Sunday in a non-binding vote in a vote that will likely change absolutely nothing with regards to the US territory’s status. Turnout was the lowest of any vote on the island in over 50 years, with almost eight out of 10 voters not even showing up at the polls.
According to the island’s election commission (CEE in Spanish) had reported that about 23 percent of the island’s eligible voters had cast ballots and 97 percent of the votes were for statehood.
Puerto Rico’s Governor, Ricardo Rosselló, had been pushing for a “yes” for statehood as the best way to grapple with Puerto Rico’s crippling $73 billion debt. However, the vote was boycotted by the island’s other two main political parties, and it showed in the turnout numbers. About 1.3 percent voted for the current commonwealth status and about 1.5 percent voted for independence.
“Eight out of 10 voters went to the beach, went to the river, went to go eat, went to go hang out, went to church, but they sure didn’t go out to vote,” said opposition party leader Héctor Ferrer at a San Juan press conference according to NBC News. “Gov. Rosselló is now going to go to Washington and say this (statehood) is what people wanted. But we’re going too to say no, that’s not true and the numbers speak for themselves.”
Puerto Rico’s governor said the territory will now put its “Tennessee plan” into action, meaning it will choose two Senators and five Representatives to go to Washington, D.C., to request statehood.
While President Trump signaled during his presidential campaign that he is open to Puerto Rico officially becoming a state, in April he tweeted his opposition to any bailout of the territory.
The Republican Party has traditionally supported statehood for Puerto Rico, while the Democratic Party said it was ready to support whatever decision Puerto Ricans made through fair, open and democratic elections. According to a survey conducted in March by the Rasmussen Report, 40 percent of Americans believe Puerto Rico should be a state, up from 35 percent in 2013. Thirty-nine percent disagree, and 21 percent are undecided.
Puerto Rico previously voted in favor of becoming a state in 2012, but statehood opponents said the voter turnout was not high enough to accurately reflect will of the Puerto Rican people. Some fear that they will make the same case this time around.