Partial results: Most voters in Puerto Rico back statehood

Puerto Rican voters made their way to the polling centers Sunday to vote on whether or not they want to become the 51st US state.

H├ęctor Ferrer, president of the Popular Democratic Party that embraces the island's current status as a territory, also fears that statehood would bring a loss of Puerto Rican identity.

Puerto Rico would be the poorest state in the Union, with many of its residents becoming eligible for greater federal welfare payments.

An official count of votes for Puerto Rico's plebiscite on Sunday showed overwhelming support for US statehood, although adding another star to the USA flag would likely face an uphill battle in Congress.

Also, granting Puerto Rico statehood would lead to greater federal spending on the island, which could prove unpopular at a time when the Republican majority in Congress is calling for sweeping spending cuts. The last time Puerto Ricans were asked in a plebiscite whether they wanted to become the 51st state, in 2012, some 830,000 said yes; this time that number had dropped to about 500,000.

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However, the results of these referendums were hardly reliable due to fact that most results favor whichever party was in power. "Whatever we might receive in additional federal funds will be canceled by the amount of taxes the island will have to pay".

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - The Latest on Puerto Rico's referendum on its political status.

The referendum coincides with the 100th anniversary of the United States granting US citizenship to Puerto Ricans, though they are barred from voting in presidential elections and have only one congressional representative with limited voting powers. The results of that vote showed that 97% of the 23% of Puerto Ricans who voted were in favor of statehood, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

The validity of the referendum, which came amid an economic crisis that has forced the island into bankruptcy and caused the ailing government to install grim austerity measures, has been challenged by opposition parties due to a low turnout.

Many Puerto Ricans doubt Congress can be convinced to incorporate the island, especially in the island's current economic condition, The New York Times reported.

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Puerto Ricans have been United States citizens since 1917. The participation rate was almost 23 percent with roughly 2.26 million registered voters.

It also gets U.S. military protection and receives federal funding from the government for highways and social programs, just not as much as official states receive.

A woman exits the voting booth in San Juan during Puerto Rico's non-binding referendum Sunday.

"This plebiscite failed to live up to that standard, and the deck was stacked throughout the process, " she said in a statement. Those who remain behind have been hit with new taxes and higher utility bills on an island where food is 22 percent more expensive than the US mainland and public services are 64 percent more expensive.

Nevertheless, the final say regarding Puerto Rican statehood lies with Congress despite the referendum's outcome.

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A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department told The Associated Press that the agency has not reviewed or approved the ballot's language. This is in stark contrast to the last plebiscite held in 2012 - in which 1,363,854 people, or 78.19 percent of registered voters, cast a ballot.

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