Things That Matter

Voters In Puerto Rico Took To The Polls To Vote On Statehood And A New Governor

Aas hundreds of millions of Americans took to the polls on Election Day to cast their ballots (in record-breaking numbers), voters were also showing up to the polls in Puerto Rico.

People across the island are now anxiously awaiting the results following a heated contest that saw long lines of voters and produced a tight gubernatorial race in the U.S. Caribbean territory.

It was the first election held since Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017, causing damages estimated at more than $100 billion and killing an estimated 2,975 people. It’s also the first election since hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the streets to demand the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. The protests, now known as the “Summer of 2019,” were sparked by a leaked chat in which the then-governor and other officials made fun of hurricane victims, among other things, and made comments that led to an investigation into possible corruption.

The island’s top job is up for grabs for the first time since the last governor was forced to resign.

It’s been a rough couple of years for the island of Puerto Rico. Just last year, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the streets to demand the resignation of then Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. Now, for the first time since his resignation Puerto Ricans were able to choose their leadership.

Pedro Pierluisi of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party held a slight lead over Carlos Delgado of the Popular Democratic Party, which supports the island’s current status. More than 12,000 votes separated the top two candidates after counting more than 95% of the ballots cast Tuesday as well as some returns from early and absentee ballots, which were also still being tallied.

Pierluisi briefly served as governor following last year’s protests and previously represented Puerto Rico in Congress for eight years. He and Rosselló are from the same party.

Much like Trump, Pierluisi prematurely celebrated the results at a news conference, while Delgado said shortly after midnight that he would await final results.

“It’s irresponsible,” Delgado said of Pierluisi’s actions.

The island’s top two parties had a disappointing showing as voters look elsewhere for change.

Credit: Xavier Garcia / Getty Images

This year’s elections are also noteworthy because it’s the first time in recent history that neither of the island’s two main parties secured more than 40% of the overall vote. This is largely seen as a result of new, younger parties and candidates eroding the grip that both parties have long had on the island.

Many voters leaving the polls said that they voted for a new party because he said the New Progressives and Popular Democrats don’t deliver.

“It’s one promise after another and they don’t do anything,” one voter told Business Insider.

The island is also facing a dwindling voter base as hundreds of thousands of residents have left the island for states like Florida and New York. In this year’s election, there were 2.36 million eligible voters, compared with 2.87 million in 2016 and 2.4 million in 2012.

Despite the drop in eligible voters, the diversity of parties and candidates has increased in recent years, slowly eroding the grip that the New Progressives and Popular Democrats have had on the island’s politics for decades.

Rafael Fonseca, an administrator, told Bloomberg News he had hoped neither of the two parties would win this year.

“They’ve been doing the same thing for years and there’s no change,” he said, adding that the island’s public education system needs to be improved and wages increased to prevent the loss of young people moving to the U.S. mainland in search of work.

Voters have also appeared to support a non-binding resolution on Puerto Rican statehood.

In January, as part of Senate Bill 1467, the Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly added a referendum on statehood to the ballot. If it’s approved, the governor of Puerto Rico will appoint a seven-person commission to represent the island in statehood negotiations. If the governor then accepted the plan, it would be presented to the U.S. Congress and the president.

Full statehood for Puerto Rico would allow its residents constitutional rights that Puerto Ricans do not have: the ability to vote in presidential and congressional elections.

The non-binding referendum asked residents, “Should Puerto Rico be admitted immediately into the union as a state?”

Support for U.S. statehood was leading with more than 52%, with more than 95% of votes counted. However, U.S. Congress would have to approve of any changes to the island’s political status.

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