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Puerto Rico is voting on U.S. statehood today, here’s what you need to know

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Puerto Rico

The island commonwealth of Puerto Rico will look to make history today.

Voters will head to the polls to cast their ballot on a referendum () to either make the U.S. territory the 51st state, gain independence or stick to the status quo.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló, who is pro statehood has been pushing for Puerto Ricans to vote in favor becoming the 51st state in an effort for equality of its citizens and the benefits the Island would receive as a State.

In any sense with the polls open (8 am to 3 pm) here’s what you need to know on what could be a historic day in the United States.

  • Puerto Rico is currently being crippled by a $73 billion dollar debt that has forced the commonwealth to shut down schools and cancel pensions for many of its citizens who have left the island for the U.S. mainland.
  • Because they’re not a state, Puerto Rico cannot file for bankruptcy. However the Island is currently trying to negotiate some kind of bankruptcy process with a federal district judge. (Title III) The Island also receives less money from the government for government programs like Medicare and Medicaid while paying the same amount in taxes as citizens of the Mainland.
  • Citizens of Puerto Rico are United States citizens but don’t enjoy many of the same benefits that citizens of the mainland have like voting for president.
  • The New Progressive Party has been pushing for statehood while the Popular Democratic Party has been pushing for independence. The Puerto Rican Independence Party has also been pushing for a boycott of the referendum.
  • Puerto Rican citizens have been citizens of the United States for the last 100 years.
  • The most recent opportunity for statehood came in 2012 when voters had two questions on the ballot. The first asked if citizens wanted to change the Island’s status and what that change in status should look like.
  • Most Puerto Ricans voted for some kind of change. Most who voted for change wanted statehood however that failed to gain a majority among voters due to abstentions.
  • If Puerto Ricans voted for statehood, the U.S. Congress could vote it into the union with a simple majority vote.
  • The GOP in the past has strongly supported statehood however Puerto Ricans have heavily supported the Democratic Party.
  • Due to the support of the DNC by mainland Puerto Ricans, a Republican led congress may be unlikely to add Puerto Rico as a state at this time due to the notion that it could elect two new Democratic senators and five Democratic representatives at the federal level.

The idea of statehood for Puerto Ricans may gain the majority this time around due to the island’s massive debt. However the detractors are very vocal like Charlyn Gaztambide Janer, a communications specialist who doesn’t plan to vote today.

Via NBC News:

“It’s a big waste of money, to be quite honest. Puerto Rico is in the middle of an economic crisis. We can’t afford this. Why are we spending all this money on this (plebiscite) when it can be used to take care of other things that are much more urgent,” said Gaztambide Janer. “I really think this is a distraction for the government to not have to deal with the real issues, and when has the United States ever said they’re interested in Puerto Rico being a state?”

On that note, it’s unlikely Puerto Ricans choose independence. In 2012, less than six percent of voters chose to cut ties with the United States.

 

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