Puerto Rico and the Recurring Plebiscite

I believe it was Nietzsche who proposed a theory of eternal recurrence, where you are living and re-living the life you live now to all eternity. Congress, by passing HR 2499, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, may have accomplished the political equivalent.

In theory, the idea is to authorize a plebiscite on Puerto Rico's future relationship to the United States. But the official summary of the bill muddles things significantly:

10/8/2009 -- Reported to House amended. Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009 - Authorizes the government of Puerto Rico:

(1) to conduct a plebiscite giving voters the option to vote to continue Puerto Rico's present political status or to have a different political status;

(2) if a majority of ballots favor continuing the present status, to conduct additional such plebiscites every eight years; and

(3) if a majority of ballots favor having a different status, to conduct a plebiscite on the options of becoming fully independent from the United States, forming with the United States a political association between sovereign nations that will not be subject to the Territorial Clause of the Constitution, or being admitted as a state of the Union. Prescribes the eligibility requirements for voting in the plebiscite. Requires the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission to:

(1) certify plebiscite results to the President and Congress; and

(2) ensure that all ballots used for the plebiscite include the full content of the ballot printed in English. Requires the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to pay all costs associated with such plebiscite (including the costs of printing, distribution, transportation, collection, and counting of all ballots).

Puerto Rico has held several plebiscites, one of which was held during the years I was living at my parents’ home in Santurce. The last plebiscite was held in 1998. Politics is one of Puerto Rico’s favorite sports (along with baseball, basketball, and salsa), and every plebiscite has had a great deal of canvassing, advertising, and publicity; turnout is always high. One should reasonably expect that this will be the case in future referenda.

Every one of the prior plebiscites asked the question of the political status in terms of choosing between remaining a commonwealth, or opting for statehood or independence from the U.S. The 1998 plebiscite also had the option of “none of the above,” which received 50% of the vote.

The Puerto Rico Democracy Act, however, narrows the initial question to: “the option to vote to continue Puerto Rico's present political status or to have a different political status,” which will probably appeal to that “none of the above” constituency.