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2017 Puerto Rican status referendum

A referendum on the political status of Puerto Rico was held in Puerto Rico on June 11, 2017.[1] The referendum had three options: becoming a state of the United States, independence/free association, or maintaining the current territorial status.[2] Those who voted overwhelmingly chose statehood by 97%; turnout, however, was 23%, a historically low figure.[3] This figure is attributed to a boycott led by the pro-status quo PPD party.[4]

Puerto Rican status referendum, 2017
LocationPuerto Rico
DateJune 11, 2017
Voting systemPlurality

Four previous referendums have been held on the island to decide on its political status, the most recent in 2012. Puerto Rico has been an unincorporated territory of the United States since the conclusion of the Spanish–American War in 1898, and its residents were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917.


Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States in 1898 as part of the Treaty of Paris after the end of the Spanish–American War. Since then, the island has been an unincorporated territory of the United States. Because of this territorial status, the island is neither a state of the United States nor a sovereign one. Although Puerto Ricans were granted United States citizenship with the 1917 Jones–Shafroth Act, the American citizens residing on the island cannot vote for the President of the United States (their head of government) nor for a legislator in Congress with voting powers even though the federal government of the United States has jurisdiction on the island. In addition, due to its political status, the United States has full authority over Puerto Rico's foreign policy.

Legislation approving the referendum was passed in the Senate of Puerto Rico on January 26, 2017, by a senate controlled by the New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico (PNP In Spanish) which advocates for Puerto Rico to become a state of the United States.[5] The measure was then passed with amendments by the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico on January 31 by a house which is also controlled by the PNP.[6] The amendments then passed in the Senate and the bill was signed into law by Governor Ricardo Rosselló (PNP) on February 3, 2017.[7]

While initially the referendum would only have the options of statehood and independence/free association, a letter from the Trump administration recommended to add the Commonwealth, the current status, in the plebiscite.[8] The option had been removed from this plebiscite in response to the results of the plebiscite in 2012 which asked whether to remain in the current status and No had won. However, the Trump administration cited changes in demographics during the past 5 years to add the option once again. Amendments to the plebiscite bill were adopted making ballot wording changes requested by the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as adding a "current territorial status" option.[9] After adding the "current status" option, the Puerto Rican government started the voting process before the Justice Department could review the revised ballot, losing $2.5 million in funding set aside and spending $8 million of its own money for the election.[3]

Previous plebiscites have discussed the margins of the win to result in a mandate with some arguing for a 50%+1 or sometimes a higher percentage to initiate congressional action on the will of Puerto Rico. Previous plebiscites with the three options have resulted in a close race between statehood and commonwealth but with neither option breaking 50%. Congressional hearings on Puerto Rico have discussed scenarios where a second round could be held on the options that win the first but that has not been discussed by the government of Puerto Rico.

Previous referendumsEdit

Previous referendums were held in 1967,[10]1993,[11]1998,[12] and 2012.

In the 2012 status referendum, voters were asked two questions: (1) whether they agreed to continue with Puerto Rico's territorial status, and (2) to indicate the political status they preferred from three possibilities: statehood, independence, or a sovereign nation in free association with the United States. 53.97% voted "No" on the first question, expressing themselves against maintaining the current political status, and 46.03% voted "Yes", to maintain the current political status.[13] Of those who answered on the second question 61.16% chose statehood, 33.34% chose free association, and 5.49% chose independence.[14]

Because there were almost 500,000 blank ballots in the 2012 referendum, creating confusion as to the voters' true desire, Congress decided to ignore the vote.[15] The House of Representatives provided funds for holding a fifth referendum in the future.[16]

Referendum question and optionsEdit

The 2017 referendum offered three options: Statehood, Independence/Free Association, and "Current Territorial Status". If the majority of the people voted for the Independence/Free Association, a second vote would have been held to determine the preference: full independence as a nation or associated free state status with independence but with a "free and voluntary political association" between Puerto Rico and the United States.[17]

The White House Task Force on Puerto Rico offers the following specifics:

Free Association is a type of independence. A compact of Free Association would establish a mutual agreement that would recognize that the United States and Puerto Rico are closely linked in specific ways as detailed in the compact. Compacts of this sort are based on the national sovereignty of each country, and either nation can unilaterally terminate the association.[17]

The Compact of Free Association would have covered topics such as the role of the U.S. military in Puerto Rico, the use of the U.S. currency, free trade between the two entities, and whether Puerto Ricans would be U.S. citizens.[18]

Governor Ricardo Rosselló was strongly in favor of statehood to help develop the economy and help to "solve our 500-year-old colonial dilemma ... Colonialism is not an option .... It's a civil rights issue ... 3.5 million citizens seeking an absolute democracy," he told the news media.[19] Benefits of statehood include an additional $10 billion per year in federal funds, the right to vote in presidential elections, higher Social Security and Medicare benefits, and a right for its government agencies and municipalities to file for bankruptcy. The latter is currently prohibited.[1]

At approximately the same time as the referendum, Puerto Rico's legislators were expected to vote on a bill that would allow the Governor to draft a state constitution and hold elections to choose senators and representatives to the federal Congress. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, action by the United States Congress would be necessary to implement changes to the status of Puerto Rico under the Territorial Clause of the United States Constitution.[20]


The referendum was boycotted by all the major parties against statehood for several reasons. One reason is that the title of the ballot asserted that Puerto Rico is a colony.[a] The Popular Democratic Party (PPD) has historically rejected that notion. Similarly, under the option for maintaining the status quo, the ballot also asserted that Puerto Rico is subject to the plenary powers of the United States Congress, a notion also historically rejected by the PPD.[b] Likewise, under the 'independence/free association' option, the ballot asserted that Puerto Rico must be a sovereign nation in order to enter into a compact of free association with the United States.[c] Supporters of the free association movement reject this notion. Had these parties participated in the referendum, they claim it would mean they had accepted those assertions implicitly, regardless of whether the assertions were correct.

Opinion pollsEdit

Date of opinion poll Conducted by Statehood Current status Free Association / Independence Abstain Undecided Margin of Error Sample size
May 24–26, 2017[21] El Nuevo Día 52% 17% 15% 9% 7% ±3.2% 966


Preliminary results, with 100.00% of precincts reporting.[22]

Choice Votes %
Statehood 502,801 97.18%
Free Association / Independence 7,786 1.50%
Current Status 6,823 1.32%
Valid votes 517,410 99.81%
Invalid or blank votes 984 0.19%
Total votes 518,394 100%
Registered voters and turnout 2,260,804 22.93%
Source: Plebiscito para la Descolonización Inmediata de Puerto Rico

See alsoEdit


  2. ^ The blurb used below the third option asserted that, "With my vote, I express my wish that Puerto Rico remains, as it is today, subject to the powers of the Congress and subject to the Territory Clause of the United States Constitution that in the Article IV, Section 3 states: "The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State"."
  3. ^ The blurb used under the second option asserted that, "The Free Association would be based on a free and voluntary political association, the specific terms of which shall be agreed upon between the United States and Puerto Rico as sovereign nations."


  1. ^ a b Coto, Danica (February 3, 2017). "Puerto Rico gov approves referendum in quest for statehood". Washington Post. DC. Retrieved February 17, 2017.[dead link]
  2. ^ "Analysis – Puerto Rico votes on statehood on Sunday — for the fifth time. Here's what's at stake". Washington Post. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Frances Robles (June 11, 2017). "23% of Puerto Ricans Vote in Referendum, 97% of Them for Statehood". The New York Times. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
  4. ^ "PDP to boycott status referendum". April 20, 2017.
  5. ^ Senado abre camino al plebiscito El Nuevodia, 27 January 2017
  6. ^ Cámara aprueba el proyecto de consulta de estatus Metro, 1 February 2017
  7. ^ Ricardo Rosselló oficializa el próximo plebiscito de status El Nuevodia, 3 February 2017
  8. ^ "US to Puerto Rico: Add another option to status referendum". April 13, 2017. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
  9. ^ "El Senado aprueba enmiendas a la ley del plebiscito". April 18, 2017. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
  10. ^ "Puerto Rico State Electoral Commission: Official Results for the 1967 Political-Status Plebiscite". Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  11. ^ "Puerto Rico State Electoral Commission: Official Results for the 1993 Political-Status Plebiscite". Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  12. ^ "Elecciones en Puerto Rico: Consulta de Resultados". Retrieved November 7, 2012.
  13. ^ "CONDICIÓN POLÍTICA TERRITORIAL ACTUAL". Archived from the original on August 4, 2013. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
  14. ^ "OPCIONES NO TERRITORIALES". Archived from the original on August 4, 2013. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
  15. ^ Wyss, Jim (January 26, 2017). "Will Puerto Rico become the newest star on the American flag?". Miami Herald. Miami Herald. Retrieved February 24, 2017.
  16. ^ Crabbe, Nathan (June 15, 2014). "Part of our country but still not a State". Gainesville Sun. Gainesville, FL. Retrieved February 24, 2017.
  17. ^ a b "What's a Free Associated State?". Puerto Rico Report. Puerto Rico Report. February 3, 2017. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  18. ^ "Puerto Rico Statehood, Independence, or Free Association Referendum (2017)". Ballotpedia. BALLOTPEDIA. February 6, 2017. Retrieved February 24, 2017. With my vote, I make the initial request to the Federal Government to begin the process of the decolonization through: (1) Free Association: Puerto Rico should adopt a status outside of the Territory Clause of the Constitution of the United States that recognizes the sovereignty of the People of Puerto Rico. The Free Association would be based on a free and voluntary political association, the specific terms of which shall be agreed upon between the United States and Puerto Rico as sovereign nations. Such agreement would provide the scope of the jurisdictional powers that the People of Puerto Rico agree to confer to the United States and retain all other jurisdictional powers and authorities. Under this option the American citizenship would be subject to negotiation with the United States Government; (2) Proclamation of Independence, I demand that the United States Government, in the exercise of its power to dispose of territory, recognize the national sovereignty of Puerto Rico as a completely independent nation and that the United States Congress enact the necessary legislation to initiate the negotiation and transition to the independent nation of Puerto Rico. My vote for Independence also represents my claim to the rights, duties, powers, and prerogatives of independent and democratic republics, my support of Puerto Rican citizenship, and a "Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation" between Puerto Rico and the United States after the transition process
  19. ^ Wyss, Jim. "Will Puerto Rico become the newest star on the American flag?". Miami Herald. Miami. Retrieved February 24, 2017.
  20. ^ Coto, Danica (February 3, 2017). "Puerto Rico gov approves referendum in quest for statehood". Washington Post. DC. Retrieved February 17, 2017.
  21. ^ Día, El Nuevo. "Plebiscite Boycott Fails to Seduce the Masses". Puerto Rico Decide. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
  22. ^ "CEE Event".

Further readingEdit