A Vote for Puerto Rican Statehood—or Not?

Puerto Ricans celebrating referendum in favor of statehood

Among the ballot measures in the 2012 election was a nonbinding referendum in Puerto Rico (PR) on the possibility of the island becoming the 51st state of the United States. Advocates for Puerto Rican statehood are hailing the outcome as the first time a majority of the island’s residents have voted in favor of becoming a state. A majority of Puerto Rican voters rejected PR’s current territorial status (it has been a U.S. territory since 1898, when it was gained from Spain during the Spanish-American War). However, specifics of the vote and other, contradictory factors cloud the picture.

The referendum consisted of two parts: first, a simple vote on whether to keep Puerto Rico’s present commonwealth status—which the No’s won 54 to 46 percent; and second, a question proposing three alternatives: statehood, “sovereign free association,” or independence. Although 61 percent endorsed statehood (only 6% chose independence), more than a third of the ballots cast left this second question blank. Meanwhile, PR’s pro-statehood governor lost his bid for reelection. The pro-commonwealth candidate won the governorship, and his party gained seats in PR’s legislature. Clearly, Puerto Rican voters want change, but just what may come next is uncertain. However one views the outcome, it will be up to the U.S. Congress to take the next step affecting Puerto Rico’s status.

As a commonwealth of the United States, Puerto Rico is mostly self-governing and is subject to U.S. law. Island residents are U.S. citizens but cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections; however, they are exempt from some federal taxes. PR has only a single nonvoting representative in the House of Representatives. Puerto Ricans who live in the mainland United States—nearly 5 million, more than live on the island—have full voting rights, but they were not allowed to vote in the referendum.

Photo credit: © Ricardo Figueroa/AP Images

Related Links

  • Puerto Rico Approves US Statehood Bid
    Read how, for the first time, Puerto Rico’s residents voted in favor of U.S. statehood.
    (VOA News, November 9, 2012)
  • Puerto Ricans Favor Statehood for First Time
    Learn what the referendum on Puerto Rican statehood means for the island’s residents; includes links to related videos such as on the English vs. Spanish language issue and PR’s Hispanic heritage.
    (CNN, November 8, 2012)
  • Puerto Rico Statehood Experts Challenge Results
    This article discusses the controversies surrounding the Puerto Rico statehood referendum—in particular the reasons why majority support is not clear-cut.
    (ABC News, November 8, 2012)



  1. kc says:

    Yippee first to read this so do they claim statehood or not?

  2. Memoona says:


  3. mooodaaaaqqqee says:

    this doesn’t explain much