Puerto Rico rejected all four status petitions presented on the ballot in a plebiscite held on December 13, 1998. The fifth column on the ballot, "none of the above" obtained an absolute majority of the votes cast in the electoral event, which were distributed as follows: Petition 1, "Territorial" Commonwealth, 993 (0.1%); Petition 2, Free Association, 4,536 (0.3%); Petition 3, Statehood, 728,157 (46.5%); Petition 4, Independence, 39,838 (2.5%); None of the above, 787,900 (50.3%); and blank and void ballots, 4,846 (0.3%). "None of the above" won a majority of 59,743 votes over statehood. 1,566,270 of the 2,197,824 registered voters cast ballots, for a turnout rate of 71.3%.
Save for a handful of voters who supported the free association petition, the bulk of the leadership of the opposition Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which backs continued commonwealth status - an arrangement established in 1952 by the party's founding leader and then-Governor of Puerto Rico, Don Luis Muñoz-Marín, under which the island is associated to the United States as a self-governing polity - campaigned in favor of "none of the above" to protest the "territorial" definition of the commonwealth option imposed on the ballot by the ruling New Progressive Party (PNP), which supports statehood for Puerto Rico.
The fifth column won in seven of the eight Senate districts, with statehood winning in the Bayamón Senate district. Likewise, "none of the above" won in 30 of the 40 House of Representatives districts, as opposed to 10 which voted for statehood. Of the island's 78 municipalities, 53 voted for "none of the above" and 25 for statehood. The San Juan metropolitan area voted in favor of the fifth column by a plurality: four of its municipalities - San Juan, Carolina, Toa Baja and Trujillo Alto - voted for "none of the above", while three - Bayamón, Guaynabo and Cataño - voted for statehood, albeit in Cataño "none of the above" lost to statehood by a margin of 72 votes out of 12,567 cast in that municipality. Only one of San Juan's five House districts, namely House district 1, voted in favor of statehood; "none of the above" won in the remaining four districts. In Ponce, Caguas and Mayagüez, the fifth column obtained absolute vote majorities.
By comparison, in the 1993 status plebiscite, the commonwealth option won 826,326 votes (48.6%), against 788,296 votes (46.3%) for statehood and 75,620 (4.4%) for independence; in the 1996 general elections, the New Progressives won 1,006,331 votes (51.1%) in the vote for Governor of Puerto Rico, against 875,852 (44.5%) for the Popular Democrats and 75,304 (3.8%) for the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), which, as its name implies, advocates the separation of the island from the United States. In that election, the PNP won the mayoralties of 54 municipalities, against 24 for the PPD.
It is evident from the plebiscite results that the PPD campaign for "none of the above" was quite effective, given that the commonwealth petition, rejected as "territorial" by the party, obtained an insignificant number of votes. It has been speculated that most of these were cast by elderly, lifetime PPD followers who apparently could not understand that the commonwealth option presented on the ballot had very little in common with commonwealth as defined by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
Despite the fact that statehood was once again rejected by the people of Puerto Rico - as it happened in 1967 and in 1993, when statehood lost by a (slightly smaller) margin of 38,030 votes - PNP leaders, headed by then-Governor of Puerto Rico Dr. Pedro Rosselló, sought to portray the outcome of the vote as an overwhelming mandate to petition the U.S. Congress for statehood.
This subjective interpretation of the results was based upon the argument that "none of the above" was not a valid status option or petition; therefore, according to this peculiar reasoning, statehood, with 94.1% of the 773,524 votes cast for the four status petitions on the ballot, should have been certified as the winning option - despite the fact that the votes obtained by the four petitions constituted a minority of 49.4% of the vote total. Moreover, the plebiscite enabling law - written by the New Progressive majority in the Puerto Rican Legislature - clearly defined "none of the above" as a valid alternative, and in fact, the Commonwealth Elections Commission of Puerto Rico duly certified it as the winner of the December 13, 1998 status plebiscite.
The author was in Puerto Rico when the plebiscite was held, to observe the process at the invitation of the Commonwealth Elections Commission of Puerto Rico.