A slim majority of Puerto Ricans voted Tuesday to approve a nonbinding referendum that would make the island the 51st U.S. state. The measure requires final approval from Congress, so it means little for Puerto Rico right now. Still, nearly 54 percent of Puerto Ricans voted for a change in the U.S. commonwealth’s relationship with the United States — and President Obama promised to uphold their vote in the case of a “clear majority.”
Puerto Rico became a commonwealth in 1917, after Spain ceded the territory at the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but cannot vote in presidential elections, and their commissioner in the House of Representatives holds limited power. According to the language on the ballot, the statehood referendum would give them “rights, benefits and responsibilities equal to those enjoyed by all other citizens of the states of the union.”
Many in Puerto Rico celebrated the news — but just as many seem skeptical that the referendum will actually pass Congress. One Spanish-language tweet pointed out that the District of Columbia has long sought statehood and has yet to win it: “Washington, DC está en carrera por ser el Estado 51 antes que nosotros. Y no se lo han permitido. No olviden ese detalle.”
There is also some question as to how Americans would receive a 51st state, which could have big consequences for congressional makeup (and the design of the U.S. flag).