Puerto Rico’s New Progressive Party (NPP) is using “rigged” data to claim the majority of Puerto Ricans support its push for U.S. statehood, rival party president Héctor Ferrer told reporters Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
Ferrer currently serves as president of Puerto Rico’s Popular Democratic Party (PDP), which advocates for the island to remain a commonwealth of the U.S. rather than adopt statehood or complete independence. Ferrer is running to replace Ricardo Rosselló, a member of the NPP, as governor of the island. (RELATED: At Least 1,500 Puerto Ricans Have Died Because Of 2017’s Hurricanes, Official Says)
Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Jennifer Gonzalez, a statehood supporter along with Rosselló, filed a bill in Congress requesting statehood for the island commonwealth based on the outcomes of the two most recent plebiscites — an island-wide vote — on the issue.
Puerto Rico has held a plebiscite seven times on the commonwealth’s relationship with the U.S. The fight is focused between Puerto Ricans who want to remain a commonwealth or become a state, though a small faction supports independence. The commonwealth status quo option won four plebiscites between 1950 and 1993, according to documents given to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The option “commonwealth” was rewritten as “territorial commonwealth” in 1998. The PDP protested the change and campaigned for Puerto Ricans to vote none-of-the-above. The campaign seemed to work with half of voters choosing none-of-the-above versus 45 percent of the vote for statehood.
Statehood has won the two most recent plebiscites held in 2012 and 2017, but the referendums were “rigged” by pro-statehood administrations, according to Ferrer.
Former Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Pedro Pierluisi, serving as Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, introduced a bill to Congress to hold a restructured plebiscite in 2012. The bill included a two-part vote. The first ballot asked voters whether they wanted to stay as a commonwealth or change. If Puerto Ricans voted for change, the second ballot would ask voters whether they supported Puerto Rican statehood, free-association or independence.
Statehood won with 61 percent of the vote, but the seemingly large swing in favor of statehood has more to do with how votes were tallied than a real reflection of Puerto Ricans’ preference.
“The status quo option got around 46 percent of the vote on the first question. Then on the second question, you had about half a million voters leave the second question blank,” PDP federal affairs adviser Jose Hernandez, who spoke to reporters alongside Ferrer Wednesday, said. “[Statehood advocates] say they got 61 percent. Well, they got 6,000 more votes in the second round than the status quo got on the first round.”
“It’s a 0.3 percent difference, yet, they say that we got 46 percent and they got 61 percent,” Hernandez added. “It’s because they are not counting the blank ballots in the second question.”
Statehood’s vote comes down to 44 percent if the empty ballots are considered, two percent less than the commonwealth vote on the first question.
The U.S. Congress approved $2.5 million for another Puerto Rico plebiscite after controversy over the 2012 referendum with the caveat that the ballot be submitted to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for approval.
Rosselló submitted a ballot to the DOJ, but it was rejected for not being “drafted in a way that ensures that it’s result will accurately reflect the current popular will of the people of Puerto Rico,” according to an April 13 letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Rosselló.
The proposed plebiscite had only two options, either “Statehood” or “Free Association/Proclamation of Independence.”
More than 80 percent of Puerto Ricans routinely show up to vote in elections and on plebiscites, but just 23 percent of voters submitted ballots for the 2017 plebiscite after the PDP protested the Rosselló referendum and encouraged a boycott. Statehood won with 97 percent of the vote, according to Hernandez.
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