A few weeks ago, my wife and I visited the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. While there, we toured some of the historic homes on the island. However, it began to rain at one point on our walking tour, and we decided to wait out the storm in one of these homes. During the wait, we entered into conversation with one of the home curators. After some pleasantries, our guide turned to politics and asked that simple yet perpetually awkward question “Who are you voting for?”
As the rain showed no sign in stopping and not wanting to start a political debate, we replied that we did not know. We all concurred that the quality of choices was poor and that very little good could come from either major-party candidate. As the rain finally cleared and we turned to leave for the next house, I began to ponder the unfortunate situation the curator, presumably a permanent resident of the Virgin Islands, must find herself in this election cycle.
“…There are over 2 million U.S. citizens living in the territories that will not be allowed to vote for any Presidential candidate.”
As it currently stands, the major party candidates are campaigning with unfavorable ratings above 50%, and the third-party candidates have yet to poll high enough to qualify for a presidential debate. As many in the states contemplate voting for one of the so called “lesser of two evils” on November 8th, there are over 2 million U.S. citizens living in the territories that will not be allowed to vote for any Presidential candidate.
Normally, any citizen having residency in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia, and at least 18-years of age, may vote in federal elections. Every 4 years, the Constitution, under Article II, requires that state delegates to the Electoral College meet to finalize the results of a general election to elect a President. The number of electors from each state is determined according to that state’s representation in the Congress. This means that no state may have less than 3 electoral votes, two Senators per state, and at least one representative in the House. The District of Columbia, while not a state, is allotted 3 votes under the 23rd amendment.
This system currently enfranchises over 230 million citizens.
The United States currently has 4 territories, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, whose island-born residents have been granted U.S. citizenship through various Acts of Congress. Each of these territories has a legislature and executive, but because they are not states, they are not entitled to representation in Congress. However, federal legislation authorizes the territories to send one, non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. No representation in Congress means no electoral votes, thus rendering the need for a Presidential election on these islands pointless.
This is not to say that people in the territories do not have any say in Presidential politics. Indeed, both the Republican and Democrat Parties hold caucuses in each inhabited territories, and the territories, in turn, send delegates to the party conventions. But, the Party conventions signal the end of territorial involvement in U.S. Presidential politics. Party primaries and caucuses are quasi-private functions, and the Parties are not under any legal obligation to hold them in the first place.
Yet, is there not a certain injustice in denying the people of Puerto Rico, who picked Marco Rubio over eventual nominee Donald Trump by a 5-to-1 margin, the chance to express their revised preference in November?
Puerto Rico has been making the case for statehood for some time now, though their mounting financial troubles has weakened the islands prospects. Similarly, it’s unlikely that the other territories will ever meet congressional requirements for statehood.
Barring any successful statehood attempts or a constitutional amendment assigning the territories Electoral College votes, more than 4 million American citizens will be dragged down the rabbit hole of the most unpopular Presidential election in U.S. history without the ability to cast a single vote.
Just think about that before you head to the polls this November.