Puerto Rico, a self-governing commonwealth whose residents are U.S. citizens, has already voted three times (1967, 1993 and 1998) against becoming the 51st U.S. state. But Congressional Democrats, hoping to add to their numbers in Congress, keep pushing for statehood. Late last month, the House voted 223 to 169 to begin yet another attempt to have the island join the union.
The latest bill would require Puerto Ricans first to vote on whether to continue their commonwealth status. If a majority vote for a change, the people would then be presented with a range of choices, including statehood, full independence, the status quo or some kind of loose association with the mainland.
But the deck is clearly stacked in favor of statehood. If a second vote is held, the winner is whichever option gets a plurality, making it likely statehood would come out on top, albeit without a clear majority.
In addition, the composition of the electorate would be skewed. Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. would be eligible to vote, and their numbers are now greater than Puerto Ricans who live on the island. In theory, native Puerto Ricans could turn thumbs-down on statehood for a fourth time and yet the idea still be approved by those on the mainland. Even if the process results in a “no” vote on statehood, the bill passed by Congress would require a new referendum be held every eight years until statehood wins.
This kind of blatant rigging of the political system provoked opposition from several Puerto Ricans serving in Congress, but the Democratic leadership under Nancy Pelosi rammed it through anyway. With statehood would come two new U.S. Senators and perhaps half a dozen new House members. In a closely divided nation, Puerto Rican statehood is clearly seen by Democrats as an insurance policy to protect their long-term control of Congress.
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