If the U.S. electoral system is complicated enough, understanding how Puerto Rico enters the equation is worth some time in itself.
Last Tuesday, Puerto Rico voted to become the 51st state of the union through a nonbinding referendum.
This implies the island’s determination to vote for the president and have voting representatives in Congress and a change in the relationship with the mainland.
This change might be precisely why some concerns are likely to arise in Congress about how Puerto Rico can affect the United States’ political dynamics.
In response to the ballot question, “Should Puerto Rico be admitted immediately into the union as a state,” 52% of voters said yes, while 48% said no.
This is the sixth time Puerto Ricans have voted on the issue, which was overwhelmingly approved in 2012 and 2017. It has been the subject of controversy and contradictions inside and outside the island, especially by those who support independence.
Now, everything is in the hands of the U.S. Congress, which, according to the Constitution, has the right to grant statehood, but without showing a route to do so.
As was the case with Hawaii in August 1959, the procedure begins with the territory’s representatives applying to Congress for status, which must be approved by the Senate and House of Representatives.
As explained by the New York Times, election participation figures in Puerto Rico are complicated, but the island’s citizens hope this will make their decision clear to Congress.
Although Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and contribute to federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare, they have no political representation on the mainland.
As Vox also explained, Puerto Rico “has a lot to gain from becoming a state,” including two seats in the Senate and five representatives in the House of Representatives. It is also likely to have access to federal funding, which will be virtually impossible to withhold, as Donald Trump did after Hurricane Maria.
Although experts have warned that state status would also increase federal taxes, if Puerto Rico becomes a state, it could “shake up” Congress’s political dynamics, Vox continues.
Similarly, and although Puerto Ricans have a Democratic inclination when it comes to casting their votes, it is likely that, if it becomes a state, Puerto Rico will be the new swing state.