The U.S. Territories (and Districts) and Statehood

An overview of the major U.S. territories and district with the arguments for and against statehood

Web+header+photo+for+%22The+Fight+for+Statehood%3A+An+Overview+of+the+U.S.+Territories%22+article%2C+featuring+a+the+Dominican+Republic+from+Google+Maps.

photo by Grace

Web header photo for “The Fight for Statehood: An Overview of the U.S. Territories” article, featuring a the Dominican Republic from Google Maps.

by Grace Uhrain, Reporter

Imagine belonging to a country but not being able to vote. Imagine feeling as if you have no representation in your government.

Nov. 3, thousands in Puerto Rico, Washington D.C., and other territories either mailed ballots in or stood on poll lines and hoped their votes would make a change for their community. Citizens of U.S. territories cannot vote in general United States elections. In U.S. politics, the question of statehood for certain U.S. territories and districts is becoming an increasingly relevant issue, with some calling for territories like Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. to become a 51st state. These are very relevant issues in today’s politics, and still, many do not understand the points of view associated with this topic.

“There are many benefits to Puerto Ricans if it becomes the 51st state,” U.S. History teacher Larissa Fillingham said.

Puerto Ricans would be able to vote in general U.S. elections, have members of Congress that would be able to vote on legislation, and have more opportunities to make change on a federal level.

This would give [Puerto Ricans] a voice in government, a voice that they do not have as of now,” AP World History and U.S. History teacher Wes Chapman said. “Statehood would culturally impact Puerto Rico. If Puerto Rico was a state, federal income taxes would be collected. Tourism’s economic benefit would be affected, as it wouldn’t be a cheap destination for Americans.”

 

 

Puerto Ricans have voted three times, once in 2012, 2017, and 2020, in favor of becoming a state.

Many liberals want statehood for Puerto Rico because it would give Puerto Ricans more representation in the federal government. “Congress has the responsibility, by the Constitution, to add territories as a state,” Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón argued in a PBS interview.

However, conservatives oppose this measure because it seems to some to be a way to add more Democratic votes to Congress and would not to help the Puerto Rican people. While the majority of people did vote for statehood in the 2020 election, 48% voted against it. An argument for this is that making Puerto Rico a state would increase federal taxes.

“In fact, white liberals’ newfound desire to grant Puerto Rico statehood to thwart Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is just the latest form of American colonialism,” Julio Ricardo Varela, co-host of “In the Thick” and creator of website LatinoRebels.com, said on NBC

Liberals also vie for Washington D.C.’s statehood because it would allow citizens to vote in general elections and have voting members in Congress, while many conservatives hope it will not become a state.

“DC residents fulfill all of the obligations of US citizenship and yet are denied representation,” the Statehood for DC website reads. “[…] DC residents have fought and died in every war, yet those armed service members are denied the freedoms they have fought to protect.”

Washington D.C. has one non-voting representative in the House, but residents pay federal taxes. D.C. residents have no say on who becomes Senators, ambassadors, or Supreme Court Justices. 

However, many conservatives believe that these arguments are a democratic effort to gain more votes. 

According to the Washington Post, Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell labeled statehood for Washington D.C. as “full-bore socialism”. 

Whether these territories become states or not, the effects on the U.S. government will be significant for one party or the other. A common perception is that Puerto Rico would be a blue state, however it would be more likely to become a swing state, according to Politico

“Clearly the admittance of a 51st state would change the structure within Congress,” Chapman said. “If Puerto Rico were to come in as the 51st state, it would give one political party a clear advantage in the Senate.”

Puerto Rico has had statehood four times on the ballot since 1967, with the appeal for statehood winning since 2012, yet it is up to the federal government to decide on the fates of these territories.

Realize that adding a state adds more seats in Congress, therefore the party that feels like they would most likely gain those seats would need to be in the majority in both houses of Congress for statehood to be pursued,” Social studies teacher Matthew Sassali said. “So to make a long story short, politics has prevented it from becoming a state in recent years.”

 

Ways you can get involved if you want Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. to become states:

  • Follow @pr51st, @hs4dcstatehood, and @dcstatehood on Instagram 
  • Follow #Statehood4PR, @prssa, or @51stDC on Twitter
  • Write letters or emails to state Congress members Jason Crow, John Hickenlooper, or Michael Bennet and explain why you want them to vote for statehood.

 

If you do not want Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. to become states:

  • Write letters or emails to state Congress members Jason Crow, John Hickenlooper, or Michael Bennet and explain why you don’t want them to vote for statehood.