Wanda Vázquez.
Wanda Vázquez. (Ramón “Tonito” Zayas)

Washington - The law that allows the "Statehood: yes-or-no" referendum leaves it up to Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced and the president of the State Elections Commission (SEC) to race against time so that the U.S. Justice Department can validate the vote.

The first reaction of the White House, however, reaffirms how difficult it will be for the New Progressive Party (PNP) government to obtain a favorable response from the U.S. government.

"The first priority for all Puerto Rico leaders should be getting their financial house in order," said a White House official officially reacting Saturday to the signing of the law that calls for the referendum along with the November 3 elections.

President Donald Trump has given a resounding no to statehood, which makes it even more doubtful whether his Justice Department will want to be related to a referendum that proposes turning the island into a U.S. state.

According to the law, the Governor will be the official representing Puerto Rico before the U.S. Attorney General and other agencies of the federal executive branch in all matters related to this law.

However, SEC President Juan Ernesto Dávila will be the coordinator of the processes required to try to get the U.S. Department of Justice to determine if the ballot and the electoral body's education campaign comply with the U.S. government constitutional, legal, and public policy standards, as provided by a 2014 federal law.

If federal Justice approves the referendum, the SEC could receive $2.5 million to help fund a vote estimated to cost $3.5 million.

The new statute gives the SEC president 30 days - until June 15 - to send the U.S. Attorney General the draft ballot, copies of the election code, the referendum law and regulations, the overall design of the public education campaign - with a budget cap of $2 million - and the additional spending plan of about $1.5 million, among other things.