2020 Puerto Rican status referendum
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A referendum of the status of Puerto Rico was held on November 3, 2020, concurrently with the general election. The Referendum was announced by Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced on May 16, 2020. This was the sixth referendum held on the status of Puerto Rico, with the previous one having taken place in 2017. This was the first referendum with a simple yes-or-no question, with voters having the option of voting for or against becoming a U.S. state. The New Progressive Party (PNP), of whom Vázquez is a member, supports statehood, while the opposition Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) oppose it.
The referendum was non-binding, as the power to grant statehood lies with the US Congress. The referendum was not approved by the US Department of Justice under the Trump administration. The party platforms of both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have affirmed for decades Puerto Rico's right to self-determination and to be admitted as a state, at least in theory, but individual Republican legislators have been more skeptical. For example, then Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2019 refused to allow a statehood vote in the Senate and called statehood for Puerto Rico "government overreach."
The option to pursue statehood won the referendum 52.52%–47.48%.
Calls for autonomy have occurred since Puerto Rico was ceded by Spain to the United States in 1898. In 1917, statutory U.S. citizenship was extended to most Puerto Ricans, although the law could be repealed by a future United States Congress. Citizenship by birthright was established by the Nationality Act of 1940. In 1952, Puerto Rico adopted a new constitution which designated it as the "Commonwealth of Puerto Rico". Today, while Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and subject to federal laws, those in the unincorporated territory are unable to vote in Presidential elections, and the unincorporated territory does not have a representative vote in Congress.
The lack of statehood is sometimes regarded as exacerbating the impact of natural disasters and the territory's economic crisis. This referendum follows a period of political upheaval in Puerto Rico, where an economic crisis and damage from a series of hurricanes contributed to protests that brought about the resignation of previous Governor Ricardo Rosselló in July 2019.
A 2019 Gallup poll found 83% of Democrats in the US, but only 35% of Republicans, supported Puerto Rican statehood. A 2020 survey by International Policy Digest found that "The majority of Democrats showed support for statehood for both D.C. (61.8%) and Puerto Rico (69.7%)" while among Republicans, only 26.7% supported D.C. statehood and 34.8% supported Puerto Rican statehood.
Puerto Rico has had five previous referendums on its status. A vote in 1967 rejected statehood, with the commonwealth status option receiving the most votes. The next three referendums produced no clear majorities, with the commonwealth option receiving the most votes in 1993 and the none of the above option being the most popular option in 1998. The two-party referendum in 2012 saw a majority vote in favour of a change in the status quo and for statehood, but the way the ballot was introduced created doubt in Congress. A non-binding 2017 referendum was in favor of statehood, but had only a 23% turnout.
On May 16, 2020, Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced announced that a referendum on statehood would take place in November 2020 alongside the gubernatorial election and other elections taking place on that day. In response to the announcement, PDP member Roberto Prats stated that unilateral referendums are pointless, and status referendums should take place in cooperation with the U.S. Congress. Former PPD governor Anibal Acevedo Vila called it a "sham". Analysts have suggested the referendum was called to drive turnout for Vázquez and her PNP party in the election, shifting attention away from the difficulties Puerto Rico had faced in the recent past.
Under a 2014 law, the Puerto Rico State Commission on Elections (CEE) receives $2.5 million from the federal government for any referendum approved by the Justice Department on the topic of the territory's status. It is thought that the overall cost of the upcoming referendum will be $3.5 million. However, on July 29, 2020, the US Justice Department informed Puerto Rico's CEE that it would not be approving the referendum, meaning all funding will need to be handled by the Puerto Rican government. One reason given for the rejection was there being no option to vote for continuing to be a territory.
On August 16 Vázquez lost her party's primary to Pedro Pierluisi, who thus became the PNP candidate for Governor. Pierluisi declared that achieving statehood would be his top priority if he was elected.
The referendum asked one yes-or-no question:
"¿Debe Puerto Rico ser admitido inmediatamente dentro de la Unión como un Estado?" Sí No
"Should Puerto Rico be admitted immediately into the Union as a State?" Yes No
This wording imitates the wording used in the successful statehood referendums of Alaska and Hawaii. It was Puerto Rico's first status referendum to ask one simple question; previous referendums posed multiple questions or provided more than two possible answers to questions.
A White House official responded to the announcement of the referendum, stating "The first priority for all Puerto Rico leaders should be getting their financial house in order". Republican members of Congress have come out against statehood; with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that he would not bring statehood to a vote in the Senate and that statehood for Puerto Rico was "another example of government overreach." Republican Senator for Arizona Martha McSally came out against statehood on a partisan basis, asserting that it would lead to more Democratic Party senators, despite the fact that Puerto Rico had several territory-wide offices held by Republicans at the time. On July 28, Jenniffer González, a Republican who serves as the non-voting representative of Puerto Rico in Congress, spoke to the United States House Administration Subcommittee on Elections and reiterated her previous support for statehood. Florida Senator Marco Rubio has expressed his support for a "Yes" vote.
As the Democratic Party presidential candidate, President Joe Biden indicated he believed statehood "would be the most effective means of ensuring that residents of Puerto Rico are treated equally, with equal representation on a federal level", but has written that Puerto Ricans have a right to self-determination; the Democratic Party's 2020 platform, which was voted upon in August, similarly expresses support for Puerto Ricans to determine whether the archipelago should become a state. The related issue of D.C. statehood was supported by the Democratic 2020 platform and by Biden, while having less support among the wider public than Puerto Rican statehood. Following the passing of a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives calling for D.C. Statehood, the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee called for federal legislators to support similar measures for Puerto Rico, and acknowledge the upcoming referendum. On July 30, former President Barack Obama called for citizens in Puerto Rico and D.C. to have "equal representation in our government".
|Jorge Benítez Nazario/Radio Isla/Telemundo Puerto Rico||October 23–November 1, 2020||1,010 (LV)||± 2.5%||49.5%||50.5%||–|
|The Research Office/El Nuevo Día||October 27–30, 2020||1000 (RV)||± 3%||50%||43%||7%[b]|
|Pasquines||October 3–27, 2020||~249 (A)||–||70%||30%||–|
|Radio Isla/Jorge Benítez||October 12–17, 2020||676 (RV)||± 3.16%||43%||42%||18%[c]|
|Gaither Interational/El Vocero||September 21 – October 6, 2020||2,041 (A)||± 2%||42%||27%||31%[d]|
|Beacon Research/Puerto Rico Herald||September 14–18, 2020||803 (V)||± 3.5%||53%||35%||12%[e]|
|Beacon Research/Puerto Rico Herald||July 20–26, 2020||802 (V)||± 3.5%||54%||33%||14%[f]|
|Beacon Research/Puerto Rico Herald||May 3–7, 2020||903 (LV)||–||36%||8%||56%[g]|
|Beacon Research/Puerto Rico Herald||March, 2020||– (V)[h]||–||31%||12%||58%[i]|
|Beacon Research/Puerto Rico Herald||February, 2020||– (V)[j]||–||39%||13%||48%[k]|
|Beacon Research/Puerto Rico Herald||November, 2019||– (V)[l]||–||39%||13%||48%[m]|
- Three-way polling
|Statehood||Status quo||Independence||Other /|
|Puerto Rico Herald||May 29 – June 3, 2019||801 (V)||±3.5%||48%||22%||22%||8%|
|Washington Post/KFF||July 3 – August 29, 2018||1500 (A)||±3.5%||48%||26%||10%||16%|
|Puerto Rico Herald||June 19 – 25, 2018||801 (V)||±3.5%||57%||17%||15%||11%|
- Four-way polling
|Statehood||Status quo||Independence||Free association||Other /|
|Diario Las Américas||March 30 – April 21, 2020||1500 (RV)||±2.6%||43%||21%||15%||14%||7%|
|Invalid or blank votes||40,959||3.18|
|Registered voters and turnout||2,355,894||54.72|
|Source: Puerto Rico State Commission on Elections|
The referendum was non-binding, since the power to grant statehood lies with the U.S. Congress rather than Puerto Rico. If Puerto Rico became a state, it would be expected to have two senators, four House representatives, and six electoral college votes.
On March 3, 2021, Congressman Darren Soto and Commissioner González-Colón introduced H.R. 1522 titled "Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act of 2021" with 57 bipartisan co-sponsors. On March 16, Senator Martin Heinrich, with 3 co-sponsors, introduced the same bill in the Senate as S. 780 a bill similar to the Admission Act of the states of Hawaii and Alaska in which it presents the transition period and a ratification vote for Statehood acting upon the results of the referendum held in November 2020, it brought mixed responses from the political spectrum including the support of Majority Leader of the House Steny Hoyer in which he in a retweet to Rep. Darren Soto made clear support of the Bill and will work with him to pass the bill. President Biden's Press Secretary Jen Psaki reacted, saying that he supports a referendum on statehood but not directly supporting the bill. On the island the PNP and local statehood organizations support this bill. On March 18, Congresswomen Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced H.R. 2070, the "Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021" with 73 partisan co-sponsors, that same day Senator Bob Menendez with 7 co-sponsors including fellow Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker introduced the same bill to the Senate as S. 865. Disregarding the November 2020 vote, the Senate bill calls for the introduction of a "Status Convention" that will give a path for the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico to elect delegates to a special assembly to formulate a ballot with non-territorial status options which will be presented to the people of Puerto Rico to vote on. Regardless of the vote, the convention will work with a special joint congress committee in which they will appoint members that come from the states with the biggest Puerto Rican populations to "determine the path to decolonization". This bill is supported by the Puerto Rico Independence Party, Citizens Victory Movement, and some members of the Popular Democratic Party, but is rejected by the pro-commonwealth status wing of the PDP and the New Progressive Party.
- 51st state
- Hawaii Admission Act, the last act of admission of a US state (1959)
- Statehood movement in the District of Columbia
A – all adults
RV – registered voters
LV – likely voters
V – unclear
- Would not vote with 3%; Undecided with 4%
- Undecided with 18%
- Would not vote with 14%; Undecided with 17%
- Would not vote with 4%; "Refused" with 1%; Undecided with 7%
- Would not vote with 4%; "Refused" with 2%; Undecided with 8%
- Would not vote with 39%; "Undecided/Refused" with 15%
- Not yet released
- Would not vote with 39%; "Undecided/Refused" with 18%
- Not yet released
- Would not vote with 31%; "Undecided/Refused" with 17%
- Not yet released
- Would not vote with 33%; "Undecided/Refused" with 15%
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- Delgado, José A. (July 13, 2020). "El Departamento de Justicia de Estados Unidos descartó validar el referéndum estadidad sí o no" [The United States Department of Justice ruled out validating the statehood referendum yes or no]. El Nuevo Día (in Spanish). Retrieved August 2, 2020.
- Córdova, Andrés L. (August 1, 2020). "Statehood for Puerto Rico and the obstruction of justice". The Hill. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
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- Derysh, Igor (August 13, 2020). "McSally says no to statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico — it might hurt Republicans". Salon. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
- Benen, Steve (August 12, 2020). "Arizona's McSally makes an unfortunate case for a GOP-led Senate". MSNBC. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
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- "Bipartisan group supports Puerto Rican Statehood Bill".
- Jaffe, Alexandra; Weissert, Will (September 15, 2020). "Biden courts Latino voters in 1st trip to Florida as nominee". AP NEWS. Associated Press. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
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- Andrew Prokop, The Democratic platform, explained, Vox (August 18, 2020). Retrieved August 20, 2020. "...create a process for Puerto Ricans to determine whether Puerto Rico should become a state"
- 2020 Democratic Party Platform Archived August 18, 2020, at the Wayback Machine (July 21, 2020 draft). Retrieved August 20, 2020. "The people of Puerto Rico deserve self-determination on the issue of status."
- "Pennsylvania Democrats Pass Resolution for Puerto Rico Statehood". Puerto Rico Report. July 27, 2020. Retrieved August 20, 2020.
- "Read the Full Transcript of Obama's Eulogy for John Lewis". The New York Times. July 30, 2020. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
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- @leaderhoyer (March 3, 2021). "Thank you @RepDarrenSoto for championing the rights of Puerto Ricans so that they are treated with the respect they deserve. I applaud the bipartisan introduction of #PRStatehood today and look forward to working with you on this legislation" (Tweet). Retrieved March 24, 2021 – via Twitter.
- "Joe Biden supports a new referendum". El Nuevo Día. Retrieved March 24, 2021.