Puerto Ricans voted overwhelmingly in support of statehood on Sunday, opening the path toward becoming the 51st U.S. state. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello will now send two senators and five representatives to Washington, D.C., to formally request statehood.
Congress has the final say on the U.S. commonwealth's status. Lawmakers would have to pass a new statue detailing a transition process. If that doesn't happen, Puerto Rico's status will remain unchanged.
Just 23 percent of Puerto Ricans voted, with 97 percent backing statehood. Opposition groups had sought a boycott of the "rigged" process.
The turnout was the lowest in any Puerto Rican election since 1967. But that did not deter Rossello from seeking to capitalize on the momentum. "Today we are sending a strong and clear message for equal rights as American citizens," he said in a press release.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who supports Puerto Rican independence, seemed to agree with those in Puerto Rico who opposed the referendum.
"Regardless of how carefully the Statehooders dress it up to look like a legitimate democratic process, the June 11 plebiscite is a farce," he said.
Nevertheless, Rossello believes the vote is pivotal in changing Puerto Rico's economic conditions.
"It will be up to this new generation of Puerto Ricans to demand and claim in Washington the end of the current improper colonial relationship, and begin a transition process to fully incorporate Puerto Rico as they next state of the Union," he said.