Puerto Rico just voted to be the 51st state. Now what?

A woman leaves a voting booth as Puerto Ricans head to the polls on Sunday to decide whether they want their struggling US territory to become the 51st USA state, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Congress has the final say over whether the territory changes its status, making the vote merely an advisory opinion.

It did not act on the previous referendum's result, which was the first time ever a majority of valid votes were cast for statehood in the former Spanish colony.

Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz vowed to push for statehood anyway.

The island's two main opposition parties boycotted the vote, which gave Puerto Ricans three options: becoming a USA state; remaining a territory; or becoming an independent nation, with or without some continuing political association with the United States.

"We will go before global forums to defend the argument of the importance of Puerto Rico being the first Hispanic state in the United States", Rossello said, appearing with his wife Beatriz Areizaga Garcia in the northeastern city of Guaynabo.

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Its commonwealth status means Puerto Rico is subject to USA federal laws, though island residents are exempt from some federal taxes.

Puerto Rico was handed over to the United States at the end of the Spanish-American war in 1898 as a form of war booty.

The referendum coincided 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.

In 2012, around 1.8 million people voted - a turnout of 77.5% - but State Electoral Commission figures show that just 518,000 people (or 23% of eligible voters) voted in Sunday's referendum.

Those who oppose statehood worry the island will lose its cultural identity and warn that Puerto Rico will struggle even more financially because it will be forced to pay millions of dollars in federal taxes.

Moreover, this plebiscite was not authorized or certified by the U.S. Department of Justice or Congress, which throws its impact into question.

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About 5.4 million Puerto Ricans live on the USA mainland, a number that is growing because of an exodus of people who can not find jobs or continue school on the depressed island.

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

"With members of two of the three major political parties in Puerto Rico boycotting the vote, we can safely assume the results do not even remotely reflect public sentiment on the Island".

"We have to vote because things are not going well", she said.

As a territory, the island has very little power and hardly any voice in government.

How would everyday life change if the island became a U.S. state? 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. Federal officials in April rejected an original version, in part because it did not offer the territory's current status as an option.

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Still the result is hardly as convincing as Rosselló claims.

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