Puerto Ricans Send Strong Message They Favor Statehood in Tight Elections

In tight elections, pro-statehood governor Fortuño is ousted.

ByABC News
November 7, 2012, 12:07 AM

Nov. 7, 2012— -- Puerto Rican voters on Tuesday favored a ballot measure endorsing U.S. statehood but also unseated pro-statehood Republican Gov. Luis Fortuño.

On Wednesday, Fortuño, a member of the New Progressive Party that supports statehood, conceded to his opponent Alejandro Garcia Padilla of the Popular Democratic Party, which wants the island commonwealth to maintain its current relationship with the United States.

"Now it's time for us to come together as one people. The campaign is over," Fortuño said in a news conference, the Associated Press reported.

Nearly 1.8 million voters in Puerto Rico participated in elections even though island residents cannot vote in the U.S. presidential contest. Voters were asked in a two-part non-binding referendum whether they want to change the island's territorial status and then what other status they prefer.

Nearly 54 percent voted they were not satisfied with the island's current status and 46 percent voted to keep it the same. Just over 61 percent voted in favor of statehood and 33 percent backed sovereign free association, which would have allowed more self-governance. Only 5 percent supported independence, according to results.

Some said, however, that the dual nature of the referendum caused some confusion. Around 418,000 less people voted for the second part of the ballot measure that asked about their preferred status than voted on the first part on changing the island's status.

Even though voters approved Fortuño's signature cause, the results are a rebuke to the governor who earlier this year strongly supported Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during the island's GOP primary.

Because the statehood option won does not automatically mean that Puerto Rico will become the 51st state in the union. This was a non-binding referendum that does not lead to a binding plebiscite. Congress ultimately has to approve any change in status for the island and U.S. political leaders, including Barack Obama, have long said that a prerequisite would include clear demonstration of popular support for a particular status.

Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, a member of the pro-statehood party and a Democrat who serves as the island's non-voting member of Congress won reelection with just over 48 percent of the vote. He said that he would present the results of the referendum to the Obama administration with the hopes of moving forward on statehood.

"The ball is now in Congress' court and Congress will have to react to this result," Pierluisi said, according to the Associated Press. "This is a clear result that says 'no' to the current status."

Puerto Ricans who live in one of the 50 states can vote in the presidential elections. This year, the Puerto Rican vote was especially crucial in Florida.