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Voting Rights in US Territories and Commonwealths
By Sarah Lane
Oct 25, 2004, 12:55


Topic: Voting Rights in US Territories and Commonwealths

ClassBrain Visitor:

Where does it say that citizens of the U.S. that live in D.C., Puerto Rico
and the Island Territories cannot vote in Federal Elections?

There are currently about 5 million US citizens who are not eligible to vote in Federal elections due to their place of residence.
3,878,532 - Puerto Rico
563,059 - Washington, DC
154,805 - Guam
108,612 - Virgin Islands
69,221 - CNMI
57,291 - Soma
These individuals have no voting representatives in congress.
My question was directed at the basis for this situation in the constitution.

ClassBrain Response:

Citizens of the nation’s capital do have limited voting rights to allow them to vote for the President and Vice-President as per a Constitutional Amendment drawn up in 1960. In the 1970's they were permitted a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives and given limited, local governmental autonomy.

"An amendment to the Constitution that would have given DC residents equal voting representation in Congress was passed by Congress in 1978, but by 1985, it failed to receive enough support from the states for ratification. In 1993 Congress defeated a bill that would have brought full voting representation to DC through statehood. In 2000, a Federal appeals court rejects a court case brought by residents of the District of Columbia against the U.S. Government demanding full congressional voting representation. The Supreme Court refuses the case in cert."


In order for citizens residing in territories outside of the United States and Washington D.C. to have full voting rights, they would need to be living in a "State."

On March 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act which granted Puerto Ricans U.S. Statutory citizenship. This means that they were granted citizenship by an act of Congress, not by the Constitution and citizenship is therefore not guaranteed by it. In the case of Balzac v. Porto [sic] Rico (258 U.S. 308) the U.S. Supreme Court declared that Puerto Rico was a territory rather than a part of the Union. The decision stated that the U.S. Constitution did not apply in Puerto Rico. Incorporated territories such as Puerto Rico are governed by their own lower level court systems. In 1940 the United States Congress granted U.S. Citizenship to Puerto Rican Natives only, but this still does not constitute them living in a State.

The following article will give you more than enough insight into the democratic dilemma facing territories and commonwealths of the United States.

Only citizens residing in a State have the right to vote. Partially because this is what allows us the proper oversight on election procedures. Foreign commonwealths and territories are not States and therefore do not have equal rights. That's what statehood and citizenship are all about.

Sarah Lane
ClassBrain, Inc.

Please Note: There are four states that are also commonwealths: Kentucky, Massachusetts, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Since they are states as well as commonwealths, voting rights are part of their rights.
Our thanks to Cindy Mayer for this addendum.

Learn more about voting rights with the help of Google

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