[JURIST] Puerto Rican voters elected to become the fifty-first US state in a non-binding referendum on Tuesday. The referendum was presented in a two-question format. Nearly 54 percent of Puerto Rican voters wanted to change the island territory’s relationship [AP report] with the US, and a resounding 61 percent of voters selected the statehood option. Voters were given the opportunity to choose from three political status options, the other two being independence or sovereign free association. The referendum requires final approval from Congress.
Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuno [official website, in Spanish], a supporter of statehood, signed legislation establishing the two-part referendum [JURIST report] last December that would allow Puerto Ricans to voice their opinions regarding Puerto Rico’s political status and connection to the US. The Puerto Rican House of Representatives voted to pass the legislation [JURIST report] to permit the referendum that same month. The US House of Representatives approved a bill to establish the referendum [JURIST report] in April 2010, but it was never approved by the Senate. In 2007, the UN Special Committee on Decolonization [official website] called on the US [press release] to resolve the island’s political status and release political prisoners. Puerto Ricans last voted on the status of the island in 1998 [results], with the “None of the Above” option winning 50.3 percent, statehood garnering 46.5 percent of the vote and independence only 2.5 percent. The island was established as a US commonwealth in 1952 after Congress adopted the Puerto Rican Constitution. Puerto Ricans have been US citizens since 1917, and the island has been under US control since 1898. JURIST Guest Columnist Pedro Pierluisi, Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, representing the territory in the US House of Representatives, contends that the Puerto Rico status referendum is historic [JURIST comment] because it is the first to include only the viable status options and will be taken seriously by the federal government.