In 2012, around 1.8 million people voted – a turnout of 77.5% – but State Electoral Commission figures show that just 518,000 people (or 23% of eligible voters) voted in Sunday’s referendum. Sunday’s referendum was boycotted by opposition parties, including those which support independence. But even statehood supporters came out in lower than expected numbers.
Puerto Rico’s two other main political parties have called for a boycott, raising concerns about a low voter turnout.
Puerto Rico has been under USA control since the victory in the Spanish-American War of 1898. “We’re a territory or a colonial territory”.
Puerto Rico’s economy has been in recession since 2006, according to the General Accounting Office, and its levels of employment and labor force participation are relatively low, compared with those of the US states.
It is under USA military protection and is entitled to federal funding for infrastructure and social programs. It means Puerto Ricans have United States citizenship, but can’t vote in presidential elections and have just one congressional representative, who has limited voting powers.
Many believe the island’s territorial status has contributed to its 10-year economic recession, which was largely sparked by decades of heavy borrowing and the elimination of federal tax incentives.
The residents of smaller islands that along with the main island of Puerto Rico form an archipelago in the Carribean, are trying to make clear whether they want to maintain the status-quo when it comes to their relationship with the USA or to become a part of it like any other of its state.
Only 1.5 percent of voters said they would choose independence, while 1.32 percent said they want to remain a self-governing territory within the United States commonwealth.
Becoming the 51st star on the USA flag would instill “new hope” in Puerto Ricans, she told AFP, as well as sorely needed economic aid.
Among those hoping Puerto Rico will become the 51st state is Ana Maria Garcia, a 52-year-old business administrator who arrived with her family on bicycle to vote early today.
What’s next for Puerto Rico?
To be or not be seemed to be the question that Puerto Ricans were trying to answer.
Options on Puerto Rico’s referendum included remaining a commonwealth, becoming a state or entering free association/independence.
Demonstrators in favor of Puerto Rico’s independence protest in front of the Federal Court in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 11 June 2017. The governor announced that the USA territory overwhelmingly chose statehood on Sunday in a non-binding referendum held amid a deep economic crisis that has sparked an exodus of islanders to the US mainland. The governor announced that the USA territory overwhelmingly chose statehood on Sunday in a non-binding referendum held amid a deep economic crisis that has sparked an exodus of islanders to the US mainland.
“We will go before global forums to defend the argument of the importance of Puerto Rico being the first Hispanic state in the United States”, Rossello said.
Almost half a million votes were cast for statehood, more than 7,600 for free association/independence and almost 6,700 for the current territorial status.
Some argued the results should have been considered a “no” since more than one-third of voters left the part about alternative status blank.
But some officials like U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat representing the 9th Congressional District had been paying close attention since the election was scheduled.