Written by Matthew Harper
There’s a raging debate taking place on the island territory of Puerto Rico. The debate is over an issue that has been discussed over and over again for many years. That issue is whether or not Puerto Rico should become the 51st state in these United States of America. The topic has become a huge talking point because of a vote taken on Election Day that seemed to imply that the majority Puerto Ricans, for the first time in nearly five decades, want to become a state.
It’s not that simple, though. The results of the vote are being highly contested. Most people seem to think that they simply want a change in their government system. The question that they voted on was a two-parter: first, Puerto Ricans were asked if their current U.S. territory designation was satisfactory, and, next, they were given three options for alternatives. 54% of those who voted on the issue said “no” to the first part of the question, implying that they want a change to take place. The 61% who voted on the second part of the question chose “statehood” as the best alternative to their U.S. territory status (the other alternatives were sovereign free association and total independence). Most of the debate, though, has to do with the fact that, although many people voted on the first part of the question, the majority of voters simply left the second part blank. So, yes, 61% voted for statehood, but that’s 61% of a much smaller margin than those who voted overall.
Yarimar Bonilla, an assistant anthropology and Caribbean studies professor at Rutgers, told ABC News that Puerto Ricans were simply voting for a change in their government. “Statehood didn’t win. There was a vote of whether people wanted to change the current status or not and the majority voted for change,” Bonilla said. “If you take into account the number of people who want to continue with the status they have now and the amount of people who voted for an option other than statehood, then statehood doesn’t have a majority vote.”
Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State, Kenneth McClintock, however, doesn’t exactly agree with Bonilla. Talking to CNN, McClintock addressed the issue of blank votes on the alternative options by saying that anyone who voted for Puerto Rico to keep its current status (46% of the vote) simply wouldn’t have voted on the second part of the question, as they weren’t in favor of such major changes. “The people are withdrawing their consent to be governed the way they are governed,” McClintock says, and, according to CNN, he referenced our Declaration of Independence, which, of course, tells us that a government’s power comes from its citizens’ consent. He went on to say that “Congress will have to address this and will have to pay attention.”
So, we may not know for sure whether or not Puerto Ricans wish to become the 51st state, but we do know that this is an issue quite open for continued debate. And, even if Puerto Ricans don’t have any desire to attain statehood, the fact remains that they absolutely want to see changes in the way they are governed, and that’s just as important.