Puerto Rico and the Presidential Primaries

Puerto Rico’s residents do not get to vote in the presidential elections for one simple reason: Puerto Rico is not a state.

“Article II explicitly grants the responsibility of electing the president and vice- president to the states. Puerto Rico is not a state. Therefore, Puerto Rico and its residents do not have the right to participate in presidential elections,” wrote Jos D. Romn, in “Trying to Fit an Oval Shaped Island into a Square Constitution: Arguments for Puerto Rican Statehood,” in the Fordham Urban Law Journal.

That’s pretty much it. People born in Puerto Rico but living in a state are free to vote in presidential elections. People born in a state but living in Puerto Rico cannot. It’s that simple.

But what about the presidential primaries?

Presidential primaries

Both major political parties in the United States hold primaries. These are early votes that allow the party to winnow down the candidates to one. In the last presidential election, Hillary Clinton was the Democratic candidate and Donald Trump was the Republican candidate. Supporters of Marco Rubio or Bernie Sanders could no longer vote for their preferred candidate. Each party has just one.

The primaries are different in different states and territories. Some states have a caucus, a more informal type of vote in which delegates are chosen to go to the National Conventions of the major parties.

Some states have closed primaries, in which people who have registered as Democrats get to vote in the Democratic primary and those who are registered as Republicans get to vote in the Republican primary. Some states have open primaries, and allow voters to vote in either primary, but not both. There are many other variations, and each state can make and change its own rules about primaries. Many of these rules have gone to court multiple times, and states may have, for example, a top-down nonpartisan blanket primary one year and a winner-take-all closed primary the next year.

Puerto Rico has an open primary. In fact, voters in Puerto Rico can’t register as members of the major U.S. political parties.

The Island has 59 delegates to the Democratic National Convention. 51 of those delegates must vote for the candidate who had the largest number of votes in the primary.

Puerto Rico sends 23 candidates to the Republican National Convention. The Republican primary is a winner-take-all contest with a 50% threshold. If any candidate gets 50% of the vote, then the winner will get all of the delegates. If no candidate gets 50% — for example, if the most popular candidate got just 45% of the vote — then delegates are allocated among those who received 20% or more of the vote.

Puerto Rico’s delegates

Each of Puerto Rico’s delegates has just as much power as any other delegate at the conventions. Puerto Rico has more Republican delegates than Vermont, and more Democratic delegates than quite a few states, including Oklahoma.

At the moment, there are 12 candidates for the Democratic nomination, and three for the Republican nomination. It is a matter of just weeks till the primaries begin. Puerto Rico’s primaries will be held in March this year.

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