Puerto Rico's Political Status and the 2012 Plebiscite: Background and Key Questions [October 2, 2012] [open pdf - 1MB]
From the Summary: "For the first time since 1998, voters in Puerto Rico are preparing to reconsider the island's relationship with the federal government. Voters will be asked to answer two questions: (1) whether they wish to maintain the status quo or pursue a new relationship and (2) regardless of the choice in the first question, whether they prefer statehood, independence, or to be a 'sovereign free associated state.' Although the November 2012 status vote, termed a 'plebiscite,' is nonbinding, Congress will likely be asked to consider the result and may choose to engage in oversight or legislation on the issue. Regardless of the outcome, the plebiscite is likely to be followed closely in Puerto Rico and Washington. Whether initiated by the Puerto Rican people or Congress, any change in the island's political status would require congressional action. Beyond the plebiscite, Congress has broad jurisdiction over territories and routinely monitors status developments. Some Members of Congress--especially those with large Puerto Rican constituencies or personal connections to Puerto Rico--also closely follow the issue. 'Political status'--a term of art referring to the relationship between the federal government and a territorial government--is perhaps the defining issue in Puerto Rican politics and the island's interactions with the mainland. This report will be updated periodically as events warrant."
CRS Report for Congress, R42765