Puerto Rico governor justifies referendum’s low voter turnout
SAN JUAN – For Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, statehood’s victory, with 97% of the votes (502,375), in the June 11 status referendum is what’s important, not the fact that 23% of registered voters (516,968) participated, the lowest voter turnout number in the last political-status votes.
With 99.22% of polling stations counted, the free association / independence option held 1.5% (7,773) of the votes and the current territorial status, 1.32% (6,820), according to the State Election Commission.
“The votes are what dictate what the steps to follow will be; in this case, a strong majority determined that we would reject the colony and favor statehood,” the governor said at a press conference at New Progressive (NPP) Party headquarters in Hato Rey before celebrating with pro-statehood supporters outside the building.
The governor’s remarks came after a televised message in which he said he would go to Washington, D.C., to request the admission of Puerto Rico as a state.
Rosselló attributed the low participation, which was widely reported by international media, to the “significant decrease of the electorate,” the population decline and the fact that it is not an election year, as happened in the 2012 status referendum. An estimated 64,000 Puerto Ricans left the island in 2015, and the trend is expected to continue year after year.
Questioned about the drop in number of votes for statehood since 2012, Rosselló said that is to “compare apples with oranges.” In 2012, 53.97% (970,910) of voters rejected the island’s current commonwealth status and 61.16% (834,191) favored statehood.
“In the United States, when representatives or members of Congress go to a special election or mid-term election, the results are significantly lower. Does anyone try to invalidate those processes? … These are narratives that denote the despair of a small opposition that already recognizes that their alternatives are not viable,” the governor said.
He added that those who opposed participating in the referendum, calling for a boycott–among them leaders of the Popular Democratic (PDP) and Puerto Rican Independence (PIP) parties–did so “because they knew they did not have the support of the people.”
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, counted several states that achieved admission despite a low turnout.
“The state of Arizona became a state in 1911 with a participation of 15,489 voters of a population of 217,000, for a 7% electoral participation. In Hawaii in 1940, only a 35% participation. In 1946, Alaska with the vote of only 16,375 voters from a population of 75,000, with only 21% of its population … Members of Congress and the president of the United States are regularly chosen by between 30% and 55% of the electorate’s participation. No one can expect that 90% of the voters vote in Puerto Rico,” she said.
In the 1998 referendum, of the 1.6 million voters who participated, 46.5% (728,157) favored statehood. In that vote, the “none of the above” option obtained the largest number of votes (787,900, or 50.3%).
Rosselló doesn’t rule out civil disobedience
The governor did not rule out the possibility of engaging in civil disobedience for the United States to address the colonial situation of Puerto Rico. His administration is developing a series of combined initiatives to achieve admission.
Among these, he highlighted the creation of the Equality Commission, which will be made up of five representatives and two federal senators who will request statehood with an Equality Plan, a process popularly known as Tennesses Plan after the first state to implement it. He also noted that there are several bills in Congress aimed at the effort, as well as the possibility of going to court to force attention on the island’s status issue.
“I have already said a number of strategies, but we are not limiting ourselves to any initiative we want to carry out,” he said.
“Now those men and women we send to Washington on behalf of Puerto Rico, because the matter is not moving as we hoped, they will then have in their power two democratic processes of American citizens residing in Puerto Rico,” said Rosselló, who in the next two weeks hopes to make the appointments to the Equality Commission.