Gov. Ricardo Rossello this week signed a measure that would authorize him to choose two senators and five representatives and send them to Washington to demand statehood, a strategy Tennessee employed to join the union in the 18th century.

“Our colonial status is unsustainable and has contributed to the current fiscal and economic crisis,” Rossello said.

Puerto Rico has held four previous referendums on the issue. No clear majority emerged in the first three, with voters almost evenly divided between statehood and the status quo. During the last referendum in 2012, 54 percent said they wanted a status change. Sixty-one percent who answered a second question said they favored statehood, but nearly half a million voters left that question blank, leading many to claim the results were not legitimate.

Critics question the timing of the newest referendum, coming about a month after Puerto Rico’s governor announced the island would enter a bankruptcy-like process to restructure part of its $73 billion public debt.

“Pushing statehood under normal times would be difficult enough; to push while literally under bankruptcy court is absolutely ridiculous,” said Amilcar Barreto, a Northeastern University associate professor who focuses on Puerto Rico politics and identity. “There couldn’t be a worse time … They really haven’t given much thought, perhaps out of desperation, on how that’s going to swing in Congress.”

Three political parties in Puerto Rico are boycotting Sunday’s referendum, including the main opposition party. They question why the government is spending more than $5 million on the vote amid a crisis, and note that the U.S. Justice Department has not backed the referendum.

A department spokesman told The Associated Press that the agency has not reviewed or approved the language on the ballot. Federal officials in April rejected an earlier version, in part because it did not include the territory’s current status as an option. Rossello’s administration added it and sent the ballot back for review, but the department said it needed more time and asked that the vote be postponed, which it wasn’t.

Statehood opponents boycotting the referendum say they also want to preserve Puerto Rico’s cultural identity and retain more local control.

If the island became a state, Puerto Ricans also would have to pay millions in federal taxes, said Manuel Calderon Cerame, vice president of the main opposition party’s youth wing.

“Statehood is not an economic model. Statehood is a political model,” he said. “Ever since I was a kid, we’ve been told that the poorest state in the U.S. is Mississippi. I’m 28 years old now, and Mississippi is still the poorest state. There are no guarantees that statehood would represent an economic boost for Puerto Rico.”

Even if there’s a clear winner on Sunday, nothing will change without U.S. government authorization, Barreto said.

“It’s all in Congress’ hands,” he said. “I strongly suspect that regardless of the outcome, that Congress as a collective will probably just ignore the results of the plebiscite and after a week, pretend it didn’t even happen.”