Crowley: Puerto Rico’s voters prefer statehood; admittance would change dynamics of Congress

Election Day was a good day for those on my side of politics. Victories piled up on every level, from state referenda to the presidency.

These celebrations, however justified, have distracted the American people and the media from what might be one of the most historically significant votes that took place last November: Puerto Rico’s vote for statehood.

The vote, called a plebiscite, was non-binding, but showed that 61 percent of Puerto Rico’s voters preferred statehood to other options.

Just recently, the White House responded to the vote, emphasizing that the will of the people of Puerto Rico ought to guide the issue moving forward.

As with all aspects of politics, this ballot is not without its critics, who say the structure of the vote’s questions was intentionally confusing and emphasized that it was non-binding.

The plebiscite came in two parts. The first asked whether voters supported maintaining the status Puerto Rico currently has. Fifty-four percent – a clear majority – said no.

Part two is the one getting all the news. It asked voters what status they would like the island to become, in the event that it was to change at all. The question was asked of all voters, even those who previously expressed a desire to stay as a U.S. commonwealth.

This distinction is merely one of process, and the vote clearly outlined a path to statehood that most Puerto Ricans would be happy with.

After all, Puerto Ricans are already American citizens. They use American passports, pay most of the same federal taxes and even receive social security benefits. The only difference is their lack of representation – an issue international organizations like the United Nations have been trying to solve worldwide for several generations.

With all of its complexities, the plebiscite left continental American observers reeling. Questions churned on the Internet: how could statehood change the balance in Congress? Would such a move affect the economy? And perhaps most importantly, what would the flag look like with 51 stars?

If admitted, Puerto Rico would change the balance of Congress. It would receive two senators, which would make a total of 102, and would receive five or six representatives. But, since the number of representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives is capped at 435, those five or six seats would have to come from other states in order to maintain proportional representation.

Since the population leans liberal in ideology, many of these new members of Congress would side with Democrats if elected. This would make statehood more partisan than it might otherwise be.

Admittance would also increase the overall cost of Medicare and Medicaid, since Puerto Ricans would be eligible for those services. It is also widely believed the economy on the island itself would improve, as they currently have a roughly 13 percent unemployment rate. The effects on the rest of the economy are up for debate, but would likely be minimal.

Many creative flag designs have started circulating. But, if we know anything about Congress, we know they’d choose the most boring option – a computer algorithm might even arrange the stars.

Besides Puerto Rico itself, Congress is the critical piece here.  In order to add another state, both the House and the Senate must approve the measure with a two-thirds vote.

Considering many members would be hurt politically by such a proposal – Republicans would see their power wane slightly and Democrats in certain states might see their district disappear – the supermajority required would be highly unlikely.

With that said, it couldn’t hurt political junkies to fantasize about what might happen. Just don’t invest in that new flag quite yet.

Colin Crowley is a senior political science and philosophy major. His column appears online weekly. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter at @colincrowley.

  • Medicare and Medicaid as well as Social Security are federal taxes that are already collected from working Puerto Ricans. The island receives benefits from all three programs. So the article is slightly wrong when it says that Puerto Ricans would now qualify for Medicare and Medicaid.

    As to the federal income tax issue, let me explain how it works right now before someone points out that the islanders don’t pay taxes. Imagine that the IRS tells the people of NY that they won’t pay federal income taxes ever again. But the catch is that every penny they would pay the federal government they would have to add it to the amount they pay for state tax. That wouldn’t be any reason to celebrate. This is what happens right now in PR. They pay a nasty amount in state taxes as compared to other states.

  • Now here is the irony. A lot of people are asking what’s in it for the USA. The people from PR will get a lot of benefits and pay a little amount in federal income tax.

    Those people know nothing about the US-PR relationship. Right now PR receives 3 Billion dollars every year in benefits without paying federal income tax. This amount is only going to increase based on inflation. It will NOT go away. So the benefit is very clear. Even if salaries in PR are low, getting something back in the way of taxes is a victory in any accounting book.

  • adacolorado

    The majority rejected US Statehood.

    This are the official numbers counted by the puerto rican electoral comission (blank ballots are counted :

    44.9% Statehood
    24.5% Sovereignty: Sovereign Commonwealth
    4.1% Sovereignty: Independence
    25.7% Blank ballots (protest vote organized by the present ruling party)

    If you add all the votes statehood option is opposed by 55% of voters, the same result given in 1998 and 1993.

    The ruling party that won the 2012 elections is in favor of puerto rican nationhood and is against annexation to the US.

  • In any regular election blank ballots would be ignored. This should be no differant.

  • When congress adds a state its delegation is added on top of the 435 member house until the next census. We would have a 441 member house until 2022/2023, at which point those 6 extra seats would reapportion away. No sitting house member is at risk from reapportionment over PR until then, so it would make sense to advance on the subject while they’re farthest away from being “politically hurt”.

  • Bostonway

    Great… an increased flood of hispanics who are unskilled, uneducated that will take jobs, collect more welfare, and add to the crime rate! Yea, this is what we need more of as a country! I refuse to be PC about these things!

  • Bostonway

    What’s in it for the Dem’s is the better question? Easy… more free-stuff by gov’t = more votes!

  • Colonialist mathematics do not apply here. There are state (Hawaii) and territorial (Guam , Puerto Rico) legal precedent where it states quite clearly that blank ballots are to be accounted for, but cannot influence or affect the final tally of votes, Suarez Caceres V CEEPUR 2009. In simple words the official numbers of 61.5% statehood, 33.5 associated sovereign state and 5.5% independence. If wew were to use those made up number the actual Governor olost the election and should not be governor.

  • Wrong Social Security are not taxes per se, since they d not add to the federal coffers. they are insurances set up by the government not taxes.

  • His Excellency

    Yes, but Puerto Rico receives significantly less federal funding than the states. This is due to the island’s political status as a territory. Many are not satisfied with the current territory status, so they are migrating to the mainland states in large numbers, which has been the case in recent years. In fact, Puerto Rico is currently experiencing a population decrease, due to all this recent migration to the states. In 2000, Puerto Rico’s population was over 3.8 million. Last year, it has reduced to 3.5 million-an over 7% decrease. The island needs to become a state of the Union in order to progress and recover from a chronic economic recession.

  • His Excellency

    No they are not. Blank ballots are not counted as votes at all. In fact, blank ballots contradict Puerto Rico electoral laws, as well as federal electoral laws and those of every state of the Union. Statehood won

Top Stories