The Washington Post
Tuesday , October 10, 2000 ; Page A03

For Puerto Rico, an Election of Ifs

By John Marino
Special to The Washington Post

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico For the first time in their century-long relationship with the United States, Puerto Ricans will likely vote for president and vice president
in the November general election.

With 2.4 million registered voters, Puerto Rico has more voters than 29 states. And the island's estimated eight electoral votes could prove decisive in a close
presidential vote.

But it remains doubtful the votes will ever be more than a symbolic gesture, as the Justice Department is fighting to stop the vote and several political groups here are
battling to keep the island government from spending the almost $1 million the vote would cost.

The drive for the presidential vote has been sparked by a controversial decision here by Senior U.S. District Judge Jaime Pieras, who ruled in August that Puerto
Ricans, as U.S. citizens, have an inherent right to vote in the national election. The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, which has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico,
heard oral arguments in the Justice Department's appeal late last week.

The drive for the presidential vote is being pushed by the pro-statehood administration of Gov. Pedro Rossello and attacked by the pro-commonwealth Popular
Democratic and the Puerto Rican Independence parties. If Pieras's ruling is overturned by the Appeals Court, as many legal experts expect, the Rossello
administration will still push forward with the local vote because, the governor says, federal courts cannot overturn a local law passed in September that puts the
candidates for president and vice president on local ballots.

Puerto Ricans are divided in their views on this issue, which for many boils down to a preference for statehood, independence or maintaining the island's current
political relationship with the United States.

"This is a tactic by the NPP to push its status preference," said Eva Vega, 61, a retired school cafeteria worker from Guanica, who said she will ignore the
presidential choice. "We vote for governor here, not for a foreign leader."