Puerto Rico election 2012

Writing at The Monkey Cage, Juhem Navarro-Rivera offers a detailed report on the elections just held in Puerto Rico. A few things stand out among the sorts of things we tend to emphasize here at F&V:

On Tuesday, November 6 voters in Puerto Rico narrowly voted out incumbent pro-statehood Governor Luis Fortuño of the Partido Nuevo Progresista in his reelection bid in favor of state Senator Alejandro García Padilla of the pro-Commonwealth Partido Popular Democrático. The margin of difference between the two candidates was less than one percent, the second-closest election since these two parties began competing against each other in 1968. At the time of this writing, the PPD is poised to win majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.


Yet, despite the victory for PPD candidates at the polls, Puerto Ricans also voted on a nonbinding plebiscite to solve the political status of Puerto Rico in which a majority rejected the Commonwealth, voting to make Puerto Rico the 51st state of the Union. The plebiscite consisted of two questions, the first one asked voters if they approved or not of the current political status, the second question asked voters to choose between three status options: independence, statehood, and an “enhanced commonwealth” in which the sovereignty of the island will belong to the people of Puerto Rico rather than to the U.S. Congress. As of this writing, the voters did not approve of the current Commowealth status 54% vs. 46%, while those who rejected the current status have voted overwhelmingly in favor of the statehood option (61%) while an “enhanced Commonwealth” received 33% of the vote, and 6% voted for independence.

Sometimes, elections do not provide the clearest of mandates, do they? (At least they got a clear majority in their three-part second question on the referendum!)

And as if the mixed messages were not sufficient already,

Fortuño’s running mate, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi defeated PPD’s Roberto Cox Alomar.

10 thoughts on “Puerto Rico election 2012

  1. I thought this was interesting at first, but after hearing the details, its clear to me that Congress should disregard the referendum results. It appears that the pro-statehood party that last power in the same election rigged the referendum to deliver something that kind of seemed like a vote in favor of statehood, when a minority of Puerto Ricans favor statehood.

    The bottom line is that 46% of those voting favor the current Commonwealth option. I’m not sure how many of the 46% boycotted the second question (the best tactic in this situation if you were a pro-commonwealth voter would be to vote “status quo” on the first quesiton, and “enhanced commonwealth” on the second, but I would expect very few voters to get that). Given that a portion of the 54% wanting change are almost certainly pro-independence supporters, I’m pretty sure that statehood does not have a majority.

    The obvious way to do this would be a referendum using AV to sort between the statehood, independence, and one or two commonwealth options. If not that, separate the questions into “do you want statehood yes or no” and “do you want independence yes or no” with commonwealth the default if majorities vote no on the other two questions.

  2. I’m not sure about concurrent “do you want statehood?” and “do you want independence?” referenda. What happens if both get “yes” votes?

    What about using the New Zealand procedure here? This referendum that just happened would be treated as an advisory vote, to decide whether to propose a change in status. Since “statehood” was selected as the plurality preference, the P.R. government spends the next four years coming up with a proposal for statehood, which is then subject to a straight Yes/No vote.

  3. Puerto Rico should get enhanced autonomy. The Commonwealth option should be changed to autonomy because it can easily be translated into Spanish as Autonomia instead of the unwieldy free state association in Spanish, and Commonwealth in English. Statehood is forever, at least with the Commonwealth option, Puerto Rico could someday want to be independent. It’s a very difficult decision to undertake.

    The U.S Constitution should be amended to guarantee territories at least the same representation as states, but only one Senate seat, as they are not states, but think of Switzerland which gives half cantons only one seat, and canton two seats. It’s unfair that the territories have no representation in Congress, Senate, and no vote in the electoral college.

    Some Republicans would probably be oppose to Puerto Rican statehood as they fear it would always vote Democrat. I don’t that would be likely, most likely Puerto Rico would be a swing state considering that Governor elections are so close.

  4. > “Statehood is forever…”

    Some seem to be thinking otherwise… and who am I to mess with Texas?!

  5. Puerto Ricans who live in the US mainland are reliable Democratic voters, but they tend to be poor voters who live in central cities, and the racial politics which so dominates US elections would of course be different on an island that is 100% hispanic.

    Hawaii was originally expected to be a Republican state, and Alaska a Democratic one, which is why they were admitted about the same time.

    Territories do have representation in the US Congress, they each elect one delegate, regardless of population, to the House of Representatives, who doesn’t have a vote on the final passage of legislation. This arrangement has been in place since the early days of the republic.

  6. Oh boy. This is opening a big can of worms, and requires a very lengthy response to do it justice. But in short, nothing regarding Puerto Rico’s status, party system, or voting system are as clear as they seem, even after 114 years of United States administration and dozens of examples, both domestic and international, of possible solutions. Additionally, this post and some of the seeds have some factual errors, as well as opinions with which I strongly disagree.
    This Congressional Research Service report (http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R42765.pdf) is a phenomenal analysis of PR’s political status and the 2012 referendum. More info can also be found on the Wiki pages “Political status of Puerto Rico” and “Puerto Rican status referendum, 2012.” I will, for the sake of space, assume everyone knows the background in my reply. Some notable points they don’t bring up are the fact that there were wide accusations that the PNP (New Progressive Party, the governing pro-statehood party) used the referendum as a political tool to encourage disilusioned statehood supporters to turn up to vote, and that the questions were engineered to give an artificial appearance of majority support for a change of status to statehood. This engineering was subject to widespread criticism for confusing voters and for the likelihood it would be inconclusive, including by 2 former PNP governors.
    Firstly, MSS’ suggestion that “at least they got a clear majority in their three-part second question on the referendum!” is in my opinion wildly misleading. Of the 1,775,893 people who voted in the first question, 54% voted No (anti-status quo) and 46% voted Yes. There were 79,023 blank or spoiled ballots, and a turnout of 77.58%. Only 1,348,686 responded to the second question, meaning the number of nonrespondents increased by 427,207, and that only 72% of the ballots cast were for one of the three options. Statehood won with 61.11% of the valid votes cast, followed by ELAS (‘Sovereign Free Associated State’) with 33.34% and independence with 5.55%. The majority looks big, but when you consider the blank/spoiled ballot rate of 28%, it’s not a majority, but only 44.21% of the votes cast, actually a decrease of 2.58% from the last status referendum in 1998. Additionally, it’s quite possible that some of the statehood votes were from people who prefer the status quo, but like statehood better than the other two options. That wasn’t a vote option in 1998, so the decrease in support for actually changing status to statehood could actually be even greater. The Electoral Commission really everyone a disservice in reporting it as two separate ballots and not reporting votes together (for example, how many Yes/Abstain votes were there, No/Statehood, etc.), but that would have defeated the purpose of trying to show massive support for statehood which doesn’t really exist. Turnout this time was up 6.28% from 1998, but that’s probably because 1998 was not a general election and this year was and not an indicator of increased or decreased support for any option.

    Additionally, the link by Navarro-Rivera is inaccurate: “enhanced commonwealth,” at least in the way that phrase is usually used in the status debate, was not one of the options in the referendum; the third option was free association (that is, a status more-or-less similar to the status of Palau or the other former Pacific Trust Territories with Compacts of Free Association with the US). While ” “enhanced commonwealth,” in which the sovereignty of the island will belong to the people of Puerto Rico rather than to the U.S. Congress” might also technically be accurate, it’s also misleading, though that’s more due to the fault of the phrasing on the ballot and some translation that is unclear than by any fault of Mr. Navarro-Rivera. “Estado Libre Asociado” is the official Spanish translation of Commonwealth, and is understood as such in Puerto Rican Spanish, but in the context of the ballot, it’s referring to Free Association. As the CRS report explains, “The “sovereign free associated state” option is not a term of art historically associated with the status issue. The term resembles language used to describe “freely associated” states, such as the relationship the United States maintains with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau. As in those areas, the “free associated” option for Puerto Rico would entail, the ballot instructions suggest, independence but ongoing, negotiated ties with the United States.”

    The expanded commonwealth option is generally seen as unconstitutional. Congress could delegate more powers to Puerto Rico, but cannot permanently give these powers to them or recognize joint sovereignty or the sole sovereignty of the Puerto Rican people as a later Congress could take them away unilaterally under the Territorial Clause. A constitutional amendment or convincing judges the past precedents were invalid would be needed to avoid this. However, some claim that the “commonwealth” status of Puerto Rico means it is not a territory under the territory clause but a sui generis status based on a mutual compact between Congress and the people of PR that cannot unilaterally be taken away.

    Suaprazzodi, the Commonwealth/ELA distinction has been around for over 60 years. The only conflict is when trying to distinguish between a possession of the US with autonomous government (what Puerto Rico is right now) and an independent state which has signed a Treat of Free Association. The problem with Congress granting greater autonomy short of full independence or equal statehood is that a later Congress can unilaterally take that autonomy away.

    Some status options I’ve not heard proposed that I think ought to be considered are a condominium held jointly between the USA and a sovereign Puerto Rico, which could theoretically be a way to enact joint sovereignty without giving up formal US possession of the island (sort of halfway between the status quo and freely associated state, or that Puerto Ricans be recognized as an indigenous tribe, and a government established on the Island with tribal sovereignty. I also think the idea of an independent state, but with the President of the United States as a figurehead head of state, represented in Puerto Rico by an appointed and powerless High Commissioner or by the elected governor, could also work, sort of similar to the way Andorra works and the way the British Commonwealth realms operate (though that would raise even more difficult. Considering that even “enhanced commonwealth” and “freely associated state” are new entries into the discussion, and that “enhanced commonwealth” hasn’t even made it onto the ballot, it’s not likely these ideas pick up much traction.

  7. While the Gubernatorial vote in P.R. tends to be finely balanced, I should note that none of their parties map into the two-party system in the US — and in fact, the pro-statehood PNP is split between a pro-Republican and a pro-Democratic faction.

    The outgoing Governor is a Republican (he was the rep in Congress) while the Secretary of State is a Democrat and was P.R. campaign manager for Hillary Clinton in ’08

  8. It’s hard to know if they end up becoming a state how their politics would work out. The raison d’etre of all the parties is based on the status debate, and whether they’d stay together is anyone’s guess. The PPD would be hard pressed to return to commonwealth status if PR becomes a state, but the PIP could rise as a pro-secession force. The PNP has a major liberal/conservative divide (Fortuño from the conservative end, Pierluisi one of the leaders of the liberal side), and it’s hard to see them sticking together without the statehood fight holding them together unless the PIP become a major force.

    Interestingly, while the Governor-elect and Resident Commissioner are both different parties in PR politics, they are also both Democrats and could quite possibly work together if PR becomes a state and the liberals in PR get over personal animosities. It’s quite possible that PR politics becomes Republican vs. Democrat if it becomes a state.

    Whether PR would be a consistent vote for the Democrats is also anyone’s guess. Puerto Ricans in the state are Democrats, but they tend to be significantly more social liberal than those on the island. Of course, PR would be the poorest state and most Puerto Ricans would oppose cuts to federal spending.

    If they do get electoral votes (either as a state or through a constitutional amendment), there’s also nothing that says they have to use the winner-take-all model. They could use the congressional district model, electoral district model, or even divide the votes proportionally.

  9. I’ll get straight to the point: to say that 61% of Puerto Rican voters supported statehood earlier this month is about as accurate as stating that 47% of New Zealand voters backed first-past-the-post in last year’s referendum on the voting system – an assertion that holds true so long as one pretends that 748,086 informal votes cast in that poll aren’t just there.

    New Zealand had the wisdom of publishing percentages both with and without informal votes, and so do I on my website, where you can find the percentage distributions of this year’s plebiscite with and without 499,275 blank and unadjudicated ballots.

    Oh, and one more thing: our Elections Commission takes into account blank and unadjudicated ballots when calculating vote percentages for every election race, just as they have been doing for the past nineteen years – everything except for the plebiscite vote, that is…

  10. I’m surprised that it wasn’t bigger news that statehood actually lost support compared to 1998–46.5% in 98 compared to 44.6% this time. Obviously the PNP wanted to present it as a victory for statehood, but I’m surprised the media bought it as well.

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