In Referendum, 97% Support Making Puerto Rico 51st State
But almost 80% didn't bother voting
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 12, 2017 12:07 AM CDT
Puerto Rican citizens wait in line to vote in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, June 11, 2017.   (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
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(Newser) – Going by votes cast, statehood was the overwhelming winner in a referendum Puerto Rico held Sunday. But going by the actions of most Puerto Ricans, staying home or going to the beach was the runaway winner. The island, a US territory since 1898, held a non-binding referendum on statehood Sunday, and becoming the 51st state won with 97% of the votes, NBC reports, with 1.3% opting for the status quo and 1.5% choosing independence. But with opposition parties boycotting the vote, turnout was extremely low: Only 23% of voters cast a ballot in a territory where turnout is usually closer to 80%. In a similar referendum in 2012, before the island's financial troubles deepened, 61% voted for statehood.

The White House declined to comment on the vote. Statehood supporters including Gov. Ricardo Rossello say it is absurd for the US to encourage democracy abroad and reject it for the American citizens of Puerto Rico, though some Puerto Ricans doubt the administration will welcome a new state that would be the poorest in the US by far, the New York Times reports. Puerto Ricans can't vote in presidential elections and their only representative in Congress has limited powers, but the Hill reports that the island will now implement the statehood plan that worked for Tennessee in 1796. The governor will appoint two senators and five representatives who will go to Washington, DC, and demand to be seated.

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