Puerto Rico has voted to become the 51st state in a nonbinding referendum Sunday, according to the Associated Press. Some reports say the low voter turnout shows a lack of support for statehood.
The economic crisis has caused an exodus from the island to the U.S. mainland, making this vote a near-emergency.
Of the nearly half a million votes cast for statehood, more than 7,600 were for free association/independence and nearly 6,700 for the current territorial status, according to preliminary results.
The participation rate was just 23 percent with roughly 2.26 million registered voters, leading opponents to question the validity of a vote. It was boycotted by a number of special interests.
The economic crisis is driving the vote for statehood. Joining the U.S. would help the economy but many don’t have their heart in it.
The economic problems were sparked by decades of heavy borrowing and the elimination of federal tax incentives, the AP reported.
Puerto Rico is exempt from the U.S. federal income tax, but it still pays Social Security and Medicare and local taxes and receives less federal funding than U.S. states. Puerto Ricans were given citizenship 100 years ago but they can’t vote in the Presidential election and have only one representative in Congress who has limited powers.
It was the lowest level of participation in any election in Puerto Rico since 1967, according to Carlos Vargas Ramos, an associate with the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York. Even the votes from pro-statehood voters were lower than in the past.
Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has vowed to push Congress to validate the vote, making Puerto Rico the 51st state, but the opposition says the low turnout shows the election is not valid.
Puerto Rico has a very distinct cultural identity and many are afraid they would lose that.