The most significant result of the 2012 election may not be the re-election of President Obama, nor any of the other highly publicized races decided on November 6, 2012. If pursued to conclusion, the vote of the residents of Puerto Rico to pursue statehood will likely have the largest impact on the United States.
A two-part ballot question first asked voters if they favor the current status of Puerto Rico as a territory of the United States. Second, voters were asked what type of status they preferred: full statehood, independence, or “sovereign free association”, a semi-autonomous status. In the second portion, statehood was the preference of 61% of voters. Independence was the least favored choice, garnering 5% of the vote with 33% going to the semi-autonomous option. To be admitted to union, the application would have to be passed by a majority of each house of Congress.
There is some speculation about whether the ballot wording and structure were confusing to voters. This is the first time in four tries that a majority of Puerto Ricans have voted for statehood and polling prior to election day did not project a high level of support for the proposal. Additionally, the race for governor was won by an anti-statehood candidate who may not push for statehood to be pursued. There have also been charges that the ballot was confusing and the results are being challenged.
If it is indeed the will of the people of Puerto Rico to become the 51st state in the union I whole-heartedly welcome and support this and hope that our members of Congress will approve the application. It is worth noting that during the presidential election both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama stated they would approve an application for statehood if Puerto Rico clearly voted for it.
There may be concerns about admitting Puerto Rico the union and what it would mean for the nation. It is not a small step. Puerto Rico has approx. 3.7 million people, more than the combined populations of Wyoming, Washington, DC, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, and half of South Dakota. The votes of the electoral college would be changed by the admission of Puerto Rico in a meaningful way, especially if future presidential elections are as close as the 2012 race was.
Other concerns may include making so many people citizens of the United States. Everyone in Puerto Rico already is a citizen so there would not be a change in that regard. They have the same travel rights and can serve in the military as any other person in our country. The biggest change would be that 3.7 million people that currently have no national political voice would be able to fully represent themselves. (Puerto Rico has a non-voting member of the House of Representatives, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, currently.) Citizenship would not be given to anyone, full citizenship would be extended to nearly 4 million people that currently have a second-class level of political rights.
Economically, the GDP of Puerto Rico in 2012 is estimated at $68.8 billion, which would make it the 40th highest state GDP in the country, just behind Hawaii’s $68.9 billion. On a per capita GDP basis, however, the state-elect would rank last among the states, with approx. $19,000 per capita GDP. This is well below the $32,000 of Mississippi, the current last place state.
Any further action in regards to Puerto Rico statehood is now in the hands of Congress. A bill would need to be drafted and then passed in both houses before being signed by the President. I am currently waiting to hear back from Congressman Pierluisi regarding his role in drafting such a bill.
Hopefully with the election so recently closed, the supposedly earnest remarks about reaching across the aisle and compromise that so many of the recently elected have been making will be taken seriously. There is no reason to relegate millions of American citizens that have voted for a full political voice (and consequently subjecting themselves to federal taxes they do not currently pay) to second class citizenship. We have spent far too many lives over the years to further the spread of democracy to fail to embrace a request from a long-time dependent territory that is voluntarily asking for it.
Please contact your Representative and Senator in Washington to express your support for Puerto Rico statehood. Citizens have a role to play throughout the year in the legislative process – dropping a ballot in a box is only the first step.