Today marks the anniversary of the last state to join the union, as Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959. But in three months, Puerto Rico faces a similar vote to become the 51st state.
And as of now, the results of its complicated statehood vote on November 6 are certainly up in the air.
Hawaii and Alaska (the 49th state) navigated a lot of political roadblocks to become states in the 1950s, since each state brought a pair of senators and a House member to Congress.
The Constitution is vague about the whole process of how a territory becomes a state, delegating the task to Congress.
In Article IV, Section 3, Congress is given the power to decide what states and territories are, but state legislatures would have to approve any act that would combine two existing states or form a new state from parts of other states. (So reuniting Pennsylvania and New Jersey, or Virginia, and West Virginia would be a very difficult task.)
So effectively, Puerto Rico residents can’t vote in the presidential general election. (Articles I and II of the Constitution says that only states can vote, and the 23rd Amendment extends voting rights to the District of Columbia.)
Another statehood referendum is set for Election Day, Tuesday, November 6, and the territorial governor, Luis Fortuño, is supporting statehood as the best option for Puerto Rico.
Other statehood votes failed in Puerto Rico in 1967, 1993, and 1998.
The 2012 vote is different because it has two parts. The first question asks voters if they want to move away from Puerto Rico’s territorial status.
The second part asks voters to choose three options other than remaining a territory: becoming a U.S. state, an independent country, or a freely associated nation with legal ties to the United States.
To complicate matters, there are three major political parties in Puerto Rico, none of which align with the Democrats and Republicans–they are aligned to statehood, independence, and territory factions.