(RNN) – While all eyes were on the U.S. mainland during Election Day 2012, the small U.S. territory of Puerto Rico voted in favor of statehood, according to election results.
While the referendum was non-binding, it marks the first time Puerto Rico rejected its current commonwealth status.
The referendum was a two-part question. The first part asked voters if they wanted to change the island's current relationship status with U.S. or leave it as is – a commonwealth. In a 54-46 margin, Puerto Ricans voted to change their current status with the U.S. The second question asked what Puerto Ricans would prefer: statehood, greater autonomy or complete independence. With 93 percent of the votes counted, statehood received 61 percent of the vote. Greater autonomy received 33 percent and independence garnered only 5 percent, according to The Associated Press.
Puerto Rican officials plan to present this information to President Barack Obama and Congress, with the latter making the decision on whether or not to grant Puerto Rico statehood.
While Puerto Ricans are considered U.S. citizens, use U.S. currency and are able to serve in the military, they cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections and have only one non-voting delegate for representation.
Double-digit unemployment and a shrinking population are blamed for Puerto Ricans' change of heart on the statehood issue. Similar referendums in previous years were consistently rejected.
"I think people just came to realize that the current relationship simply does not create the number of jobs that we need," Puerto Rico Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock told CNN.
Despite the referendum's results, critics say it is not an accurate picture of what Puerto Ricans want because roughly one-third of the votes cast left the optional choice question blank. And in a strange twist, Puerto Ricans' new governor-elect is reportedly anti-statehood.
If Puerto Rico is granted statehood, the island would reportedly receive five seats in the House of Representatives and two seats in the Senate. It would also receive roughly an extra $20 billion a year in funds from the federal government, according to The Associate Press. Citizens of the would-be state would also start paying federal income taxes, and companies there would have to start paying corporate taxes.
Puerto Rico has been under American control since Spain conceded it to the U.S. following the Spanish-American War in 1898.
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