On June 11, Puerto Rico held a vote on a non-binding referendum concerning the commonwealth’s potential statehood in which 97 percent of the ballots cast were in favor of becoming the 51st state in the USA.
However, while several outlets have reported this as proof that the vast majority of islanders are in favor of statehood, it’s important to note that only 23 percent of eligible voters participated in the election. This is a rarity for Puerto Rico, as the island typically boasts 80% voter participation in national elections, according to the New York Times. Many actively boycotted the election, saying the process was “rigged” due to the ballot language.
The United States Congress is the only governing body that can officially grant statehood to the island. However, some argue that the low voter turnout will squash serious discussion about the matter at this point.
“A 97 percent win is the kind of result you get in a one-party regime,” former Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá said in an interview with the New York Times. “Washington will laugh in their faces.”
So now the decision is on Congress. Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón will file a new bill for Congress to review to propose statehood. Congress can either vote on it or ignore it. But if Congress does not pass a statute that lays out the transition process of the island, Puerto Rico will remain a commonwealth.