Editor's note

On Sunday, Puerto Ricans go to the polls – for a fifth time – to vote on whether they’d like the territory to become the 51st state. President Donald Trump has said he would support the outcome of the plebiscite. But the truth is only congressional action can add a state to the union. Historian David Stebenne of The Ohio State University takes us back to the last time Congress voted to add a state – Hawaii in 1959. If history is a guide, Puerto Rico’s attempt faces “tough sledding” in Congress, Stebenne writes, but it’s not a hopeless cause.

But as the University of Connecticut’s Charles Venator-Santiago points out, Congress has already debated at least 132 bills related to Puerto Rico’s political status since it was annexed in 1898. In that time, no action has been taken to change its status. Some amendments have provided Puerto Rico more control in governing its local affairs, but many see another goal in statehood or independence: a way to remedy the unequal treatment of its citizens.

Emily Costello

Senior Editor, Politics + Society

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San Juan, Puerto Rico, Nov. 3, 2012. AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo

Statehood for Puerto Rico? Lessons from the last time the US added a star to its flag

David Stebenne, The Ohio State University

Hawaii was the last state to join the Union. It didn’t happen without a lot of political dealmaking.

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