SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - A large majority of voters in Puerto Rico supported US statehood for their island in a referendum on Sunday, according to partial results, but a low turnout and a boycott by several opposition parties called into question the validity of the non-binding vote.
97% of Puerto Ricans have voted in favor of US statehood in a referendum with a turnout of 23%.
The turnout for the nonbinding referendum was 23 percent.
"Today, we the people of Puerto Rico, are sending a strong and clear message to the world claiming our equal rights as American citizens", Governor Ricardo Rosselló said, calling it a "historic election". According to a survey conducted in March by the Rasmussen Report, 40 percent of Americans believe Puerto Rico should be a state, up from 35 percent in 2013.
Puerto Rico held a referendum on whether the U.S. Territory should apply for statehood. While only 23 percent of registered voters cast ballots, 97 percent of the votes were in favor of becoming a US state.
Fifty-four percent of voters in that referendum backed changing Puerto Rico's current territorial status. About 1.3 percent voted for the current commonwealth status and about 1.5 percent voted for independence.
No clear majority emerged in the first three referendums on status, with voters nearly evenly divided between statehood and the status quo. "Statehood brings stability, allows us to have fewer rule-changes from Congress, provides resources to our people", he said. "But we're going too to say no, that's not true and the numbers speak for themselves".
Puerto Rico is now in the midst of a massive debt crisis totaling $70 billion. Puerto Rico has been in recession for nearly a decade.
According to U.S. Representative Nydia Velázquez, because the turnout was so low, the results can not be trusted. Appropriately, the governor's political party is called the New Progressive Party.
Almost half a million Puerto Ricans have fled to the USA mainland to escape the island's 10-year economic recession and 12 percent unemployment rate.
Alejandro García Padilla, the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of choosing statehood. If Congress does not pass a statute, Puerto Rico's status will remain as it is.
Currently, Puerto Rico is a US-territory, but not officially a state.
Attachments to cultural and national identity are the main reasons why Puerto Ricans may oppose US statehood, Cruz-Martinez said. The GAO found in a study in 2010 that the island's share of federal money would surge by as least one-third for programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Supplemental Security Income.
"From today, the federal government will no longer be able to ignore the voice of the majority of the American citizens in Puerto Rico".
"In any democracy, the expressed will of the majority that participates in the electoral processes always prevails", the territory's Governor Pedro Rossello said.
Rosselló is heading to Washington this week to try to convince Congress that statehood is best for the island, but it's unclear whether that would help stop the downward spiral of the island's economy.