Puerto Rico votes for statehood but may not get it

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For the first time, more Puerto Rican voters favor U.S. statehood over maintaining commonwealth status, but statehood may not be granted.

By a Nov. 6 vote of 54 to 46 percent, Puerto Ricans favored a non-binding referendum on whether to seek change to their island's commonwealth status. In a second question on the ballot, 61 percent said they supported statehood while only 5 percent preferred independence.

Still, it's unclear how much weight the vote will carry, since only 800,000 of the island's four million residents voted in favor of statehood and voters also ousted Governor Luis Fortuño, a member of the New Progressive Party that supports statehood. In his place, Alejandro Garcia Padilla of the Popular Democratic Party, which advocates for maintaining commonwealth status, will assume office.

A Republican-dominated House of Representatives would likely stand in the way of Puerto Rican statehood as well, since Puerto Rican voters are heavily Democratic and GOP lawmakers have been leery of permitting an expansion of congressional representation that would even marginally dilute their numbers. 

In June 2011, President Obama said that for Puerto Rican statehood or other relationship changes with the United States, "when the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you."

Pedro Pierluisi (D), Puerto Rico's non-voting delegate to the House, won reelection with 48 percent of the vote. Pierluisi has not issued a public statement on the vote, and his staff would only say Pierluisi plans to present the referendum results to the president in the coming days.

All prior statehood votes had margins that fell (.pdf) under 50 percent of voters in favor of it: 1967 (39 percent); 1993 (46.3 percent); and 1998 (46.5 percent).

Article Four of the Constitution says Congress can admit new states into the union with simple majority votes in both chambers. Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory without its own sovereignty, technically Congress could even add the island as a state without a vote by its residents.

For more:
- look at the island's election results
- download a Congressional Research Service report on Puerto Rico, hosted by Secrecy News (.pdf)

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