For the first time, a majority of Puerto Rican voters expressed support for changing their homeland’s status from a U.S. commonwealth to full statehood Tuesday night.
According to CNN, the non-binding referendum on the issue was split into two questions. Residents voted against remaining a territory by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent in the first part of the referendum, while 61 percent supported statehood in the second part.
The Associated Press reported that newly re-elected President Barack Obama expressed support for the referendum. Puerto Rico becoming a state, however, would require two-thirds approval from Congress.
Puerto Rican Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock said economic factors weighed heavily in statehood winning majority support after three previous referendums failed.
“I think people just came to realize that the current relationship simply does not create the number of jobs that we need,” he said, citing an exodus of Puerto Ricans that has led to 58 percent of the population now living in the mainland U.S, where they have voting rights. “When you have a political status that scares away half of your population, it is time to reject that political status.”
Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1898, and though residents have been eligible to serve in the American military since 1917, they are not represented in Congress or the Electoral College, and have only one resident commissioner in the House of Representatives with limited voting powers, an arrangement similar to the one with the District of Columbia, which is represented by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), although Puerto Ricans are exempted from paying federal income tax.
On Wednesday, a column in the blog DCist linked both territories together in an open letter to Obama.
“New states to the union have come in pairs, after all,” Martin Austermuhle wrote. “That not being possible, say that you’ll settle for nothing less than budget autonomy for D.C.”
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