US Justice Dept. rejects release of funds for ‘Yes or No’ plebiscite

By The Star Staff

The U.S. Justice Department in a letter to the State Elections Commission (SEC) has rejected releasing to Puerto Rico federal funds that were appropriated six years ago by the U.S. Congress to hold a status vote that will ask voters whether Puerto Rico should be immediately admitted into the union as a state.

The information is contained in a letter made public by reporter and analyst Jay Fonseca on his social media page.

The vote was slated to be held along with the November general election. The island government requested $2.5 million assigned in a 2014 appropriations law by Congress for an “objective, nonpartisan voter education about a status plebiscite, on options that would resolve Puerto Rico’s political status.”

In a letter dated July 19 to SEC Chairman Juan E. Dávila, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen cited several reasons for not issuing the funds that were requested by the government last month.

The federal Justice Department said, firstly, that it did not have sufficient time to complete the multi-layered process it must follow before releasing the funds by a June 30 deadline established in Law 51 of 2020, which authorized the status vote. The department did not meet the deadline.

Second, Rosen expressed concerns about the materials that will be used for the vote because they approach the question of Puerto Rico’s status from a pro-statehood and anti-territorial point of view.

“In that context, the Department approval and funding of the plebiscite may be seen as an endorsement of these views and a rejection of the others available,” the letter states.

The plebiscite also appears to be based in part on a determination by the Puerto Rico Legislature that status votes held in 2012 and in 2017 constituted a direct rejection of the current territorial status and options. Rosen noted that the results of those votes were the subject of controversy.

Rosen also said the materials to be used in the vote may cause voters to misperceive the effect of a majority vote in favor of statehood, noting that a majority “yes” vote would not lead automatically to admission as a state.

“The fear of voter confusion is compounded by statements that compared the plebiscite to those held in Alaska and Hawaii immediately before their admission to the union,” he said.

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