Polls close in Puerto Rico status referendum
SAN JUAN – The polls to Puerto Rico’s fifth status referendum closed at 3 p.m. Sunday and although the supporters of statehood for Puerto Rico seem to have obtained what was expected to be an overwhelming victory in a process that had been boycotted by the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party and the Puerto Rico Independence Party, the total number of votes may fail to impress independent observers.
Observers of the process believe that the governing New Progressive Party’s foot soldiers would need more than 600,000 votes to make a solid case that the movement for Puerto Rico’s admission as a state is strong. Coming short of that would bolster the opposition’s case for having boycotted the referendum on the grounds that it was anti-democratic in its language because it failed to adequately define commonwealth as a bona fide status option.
The negative impression the opposition it trying to sell because statehood fell short of an arbitrary threshold is not being bought by everyone.
Now, the pro-statehood brigades will have to take their show on the road to pave the way for a grassroots campaign that intends to rally the support of constituents in Hispanic bastions of such states as Florida, New York, Connecticut and Texas.
“We have spent the past five years educating people on Capitol Hill pertaining to Puerto Rico’s issues,” said Anabelle Guillen, an adviser on federal affairs for Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and executive director for Igualdad: Futuro Seguro, a Puerto Rico-based super PAC (political action committee) advocating for the island’s issues across the United States.
“We have focused on many issues, but our most recent trip was tied to status. We attended meetings between Gov. Rosselló, Resident Commissioner Jennifer González, Rivera Schatz and [U.S. Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell, Speaker [Paul] Ryan, [U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman] Rob Bishop among others.”
Igualdad took its show to the White House, where they met with Justin Clark, who heads the intergovernmental affairs office that deals with Puerto Rico.
“We were able to explain how being a territory affects Puerto Rico in terms of the Medicaid cap and the difference between what the island receives as compared to the rest of the states,” Guillen added. “Now, after Promesa and all of the work done by many on the Hill, there is a difference because the Puerto Rico issue is on the table. There is a difference from six years ago.”
Guillen let on that several members of Congress supported Sunday’s decision—whatever the outcome. Among those who have expressed they will back the result include Reps. José Serrano (D-NY), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Darren Soto (R-FL) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Still, the members of Igualdad are well aware that an immovable Congress poses a significant challenge.
Guillen believes the crusade for statehood needs to go beyond Congress to the districts where constituents reside.
“It is an issue that is bigger than the Hill. Our job is to take the message to other people,” Guillen said. “We will visit the districts, we will visit the states, reaching out to constituents in important states who can put pressure on representatives to act. We can’t continue to just walk up and down the halls of Congress.”
The Puerto Rico State Elections Commission results as of 7:15 p.m. Sunday:
|Free Association/Proclamation of Independence|
|Current Territorial Status|
|NOT AWARDED BALLOTS||1|
|BALLOTS WITH NO AWARD VALUE…||983|
|REGISTERED VOTERS IN REPORTED VOTING PLACES…||2,246,728|
|TOTAL ENVELOPES OF VOTERS THAT VOTED BY PROVISIONAL BALLOTS…||5,633|