Puerto Rico faces the choice of altering its long-ambiguous status as a U.S. territory on Election Day.
In a referendum Tuesday, voters will declare if they want to maintain the status quo -- it's currently called a "free associated state" or "commonwealth" -- or choose among three other options: statehood, independence or “sovereign free association,” also referred to as the "enhanced commonwealth" option, which would give the island the greatest degree of autonomy compared with the other options.
For 114 years, Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory. Although the causes of independence and statehood have come up many times over the years, neither gained enough support to become law.
Any decision to change Puerto Rico’s current status, including its admission as the 51st state in the Union, would require approval from Congress.
Under the current system, Puerto Ricans are automatically granted U.S. citizenship, but they cannot vote in the U.S. presidential election and have only nonvoting representation in Congress.
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That would change if Puerto Rico became the 51st U.S. state with Puerto Ricans gaining the same voting rights and legislative representation as mailand Americans.
In addition, it would receive an additional $20 billion a year in federal funding, which statehood supporters argue will help reinvigorate the economy amid an unemployment rate of 13.6 percent, the Associated Press reported.
In the past, statehood has garnered much more support than independence. Three referendums on the territory’s status have been held -- in 1967, 1993 and 1998 – all of which produced no change.
In the 1998 vote, 46.5 percent of voters supported statehood, while only 2.5 percent supported independence. In 1993, 46.3 percent of voters supported statehood and 4.4 percent backed independence. The commonwealth option lost major support from 1993 to 1998.
Puerto Ricans currently pay into Social Security and Medicaid through a payroll tax, though they receive limited benefits compared with citizens in the 50 states. These programs would either be eliminated or expanded in Puerto Rico depending on independence or statehood, respectively.
The enhanced commonwealth option would limit the application of U.S. law in Puerto Rico’s judicial system and allow Puerto Rico to have more of a say in defining the details of its relationship with the U.S.
Recent polls indicated that a slim majority support the status quo, while those supporting a change opted for statehood over beefed-up commonwealth status or independence, according to the AP.