The United States territory of Puerto Rico will hold a nonbinding referendum on statehood in November. Governor Wanda Vazquez said the vote will ask a simple question: “Should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted as a US state?”
In 2017, the last time the island voted on the question 97% approved of statehood but opponents boycotted the measure and turnout was a very low 23%, making the vote contentious rather than conclusive.
Since then, Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2018, and a poor federal effort at recovery was led by an apathetic Donald Trump. He said that the recovery was too costly and that Puerto Rican leaders were corrupt when they complained. Now the pandemic is killing off tourism to the island and relief from Washington is hard to come by.
The island’s economy had been struggling for years even before the hurricane with tens of thousands of residents leaving for the US mainland each year. Puerto Ricans are American citizens but the territory has no voting members of Congress and does not vote for President in the general election.
The US Congress decides on accepting new states so statehood would only be seriously considered if Joe Biden wins the presidency and Democrats control both houses of Congress. Even then it would likely require a vote by Puerto Rico that shows a clear majority wants statehood.
In the past, some Republicans have spoken in favor of Puerto Rico as a state, but the estrangement of the territory by Trump makes it unlikely that any would support it today. Various issues such as Puerto Rico’s Spanish language and Hispanic culture will be brought up as well as its poverty as compared to all 50 current states. Republicans also worry the island would elect two Democratic senators if it is admitted.
But if Trump and the Republicans make too many harsh statements about Puerto Rico and an attempt at statehood, it could cost them in the November election. Well over one million Puerto Rican Americans live in the swing state of Florida alone. Motivating them to vote against Trump could cost the GOP if they turn out to vote Democratic in Florida and other close states.