SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico's governor announced that the U.S. territory has overwhelmingly chosen statehood in a nonbinding referendum Sunday held amid a deep economic crisis that has sparked an exodus of islanders to the U.S. mainland.
Nearly half a million votes were cast for statehood, more than 7,600 for free association/independence and nearly 6,700 for the current territorial status, according to preliminary results. The participation rate was just 23 percent with roughly 2.26 million registered voters, leading opponents to question the validity of a vote that several parties had boycotted.
"From today going forward, the federal government will no longer be able to ignore the voice of the majority of the American citizens in Puerto Rico," Gov. Ricardo Rossello said, announcing the victory. "It would be highly contradictory for Washington to demand democracy in other parts of the world, and not respond to the legitimate right to self-determination that was exercised today in the American territory of Puerto Rico."
U.S. Congress, however, has final say in any changes to the island's political status.
It was the lowest level of participation in any election in Puerto Rico since 1967, according to Carlos Vargas Ramos, an associate with the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York. He also said that even among voters who supported statehood, turnout was lower this year compared with the last referendum in 2012.