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Puerto Rico’s Path Forward Following Vote for Statehood

by Countable | 6.12.17

Puerto Ricans went to the polls on Sunday to cast an important vote on the commonwealth’s future, and 97 percent of voters chose statehood over the alternatives — remaining a commonwealth or becoming an independent country.

However, despite the vote a lot still has to happen before Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state, in fact it’s not even a certainty that it will. Turnout in the weekend’s vote was very low — only 23 percent of registered voters cast ballots — and several opposition parties boycotted which. Taken together, those factors will raise questions about whether the results truly indicate a consensus for statehood.

Despite that, Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood governor is touting the results as "the will of the people" and will use the outcome to lobby Congress and the Trump administration for the commonwealth’s admission as a state. The vote also formally a triggered a process pro-statehood Puerto Ricans hope will prove persuasive, known as the Tennessee Plan.

What’s the Tennessee Plan?

It’s a process that was pioneered by Tennessee to transition from being part of the Southwest Territory to become the 16th state in the Union back in 1796.

When Tennesseans voted in favor of statehood, they also pre-emptively elected their state’s congressional delegation, who were dispatched to the nation’s capitol to lobby for statehood while they were unable to take their seats in Congress. Within four months, their efforts succeeded and an admission bill was passed and signed into law by then-President George Washington. Subsequently, the process was used by Michigan, Iowa, Oregon, California, Kansas, and Alaska to become states.

Puerto Rico’s version of the Tennessee Plan is a little different, given that the commonwealth’s governor will appoint the members of the shadow congressional delegation rather than their being elected.

What happens next?

Puerto Rico’s non-voting delegate to Congress will introduce a bill to admit Puerto Rico as a state. It will then be referred to the House Natural Resources Committee, which will deal with the bill at its discretion.

Lawmakers may be reluctant to admit Puerto Rico as a state based on the low turnout for Sunday’s vote, and the memory of Congress’s struggle to pass a bill that works toward resolving Puerto Rico’s debt crisis may still be fresh. Nonetheless, Puerto Rico’s shadow congressional delegation will soon be in Washington D.C. making the commonwealth’s case for statehood.

— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: Breezy Baldwin / Creative Commons)

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