In brief

Puerto Rico referendum: 52% of votes for US statehood

Poll has been sixth on the matter since 1963 · Final decision up to US Congress

NPP gubernatorial candidate Pedro Pierluisi speaks during the election campaing; behind him a US flag.
NPP gubernatorial candidate Pedro Pierluisi speaks during the election campaing; behind him a US flag. Author: Partido Nuevo Progresista
The “yes” to Puerto Rico’s accession to the United States as the 51st state has won the non-binding plebiscite held in the Caribbean island on 3 November. With 95% of polling places declared, the pro-annexation option has collected 52.2% of the ballots. Turnout has been close to 51%.

Turnout has been considerably higher than in the last one, held in 2017, when only 23% of voters went to the polls.

The vote had been driven by the government of Puerto Rico, in the hands of the New Progressive Party (PNP, conservative), which favours the island’s accession to US statehood. The US Department of Justice had not validated the holding of the referendum.

Decision on admission depends on the United States Congress. The Republican Party’s predictable victory in the Senate makes it more difficult for the US parliament to accept Puerto Rico into the union as most GOP members are against it, among other reasons because they fear the island would become a Democratic stronghold. Although, as this Politico analysis explains, it is not that obvious that Puerto Rico must be a clear Democratic-majority state.

According to Vox, Democratic control of Congress and the US presidency, high turnout in the plebiscite, and a clear “yes” vote could put pressure on lawmakers to make a decision on admission. Neither the first nor the third premise are by the moment granted. Nor is it clear that the Puerto Rico dossier is a priority for Democrats.

This is the sixth time —the first was in 1963— that Puerto Rico has voted on statehood.