Puerto Ricans will go to the polls Nov. 3 to cast a non-binding vote on whether they want the US territory to become a full-fledged state, Governor Wanda Vazquez said Saturday.
Residents of the commonwealth are US citizens but can’t vote for president and don’t have congressional representation. If the island of 3.2 million were to become a state, it would be eligible for two senators and five representatives.
The referendum comes after a series of natural disasters after which the island’s leaders say they’ve gotten inferior treatment compared with the states, most notably after the catastrophic Hurricane Maria, which killed an estimated 3,000 people. But the timing may also be political: the push for statehood is a key cause for the ruling New Progressive Party, which is facing a difficult gubernatorial election in November.
After signing the referendum bill, Vazquez said that “once and for all, our people will have the opportunity to determine the future of the island.”
Statehood, however, would require support from US Congress — something that legislators and analysts have said is unlikely under current leadership. In 2018, President Donald Trump told interviewer Geraldo Rivera that he was an “absolute no” on the question of Puerto Rico statehood. Puerto Rico has its own political parties, but polls show Puerto Ricans gravitate toward Democrats in mainland politics.
Vazquez has said the island’s territorial status is at the root of its economic problems and the “inequality and disadvantages” it faces. Crucially, the vote will be held on the same day as local gubernatorial balloting, and will likely help drive turnout for the ruling party — known as PNP, for its initials in Spanish.
This will be the sixth time the bankrupt commonwealth has been asked to vote on its status. In 2017, the statehood option won 97% of the vote, but turnout was anaemic amid a boycott. While previous referendums have given residents a range of options, the November ballot will be unambiguous, asking voters to answer “yes” or “no” to the question: “Should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted into the Union as a State?”
“Never before in our history have we been presented with the opportunity to give the Puerto Rican government such a strong mandate and the Congress of the United States such a clear message about our destiny as a people,” Vazquez said. “The question is simple, clear and direct and the answer will be simple, clear and definitive.”