One of the biggest changes that statehood will bring is the right to vote in presidential elections and for multiple representatives in Congress.
Right now, residents of Puerto Rico don’t get to vote in elections for president, or for any voting members of the U.S. Congress.
So what voting rights do residents of Puerto Rico have right now? People in Puerto Rico can vote for their local political leaders. The Governor of Puerto Rico, the Residential Commissioner, members of the Puerto Rico House and Senate — all these people are elected by the residents of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico also has a say in presidential primaries. These are the votes in which the Democratic and Republican parties choose their candidates for President.
Residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections. This is because states rather than citizens choose the president in the United States. Voters choose their preferred candidate, and a representative of the state makes the choice in the Electoral College.
The president is chosen by these representatives, who are called “Electors.” Each state has as many electors as legislators, but Puerto Rico has no voting members of Congress. Therefore, Puerto Rico has no electors.
Therefore, Puerto Rico has no vote in the presidential elections.
Note that this is not about U.S. citizenship. A U.S. citizen born in Puerto Rico and living in Wisconsin can vote in presidential elections. A U.S. citizen born in Wisconsin and living in Puerto Rico cannot.
The midterm elections
Puerto Rico has one member of Congress, a non-voting member called the Resident Commissioner. This person is elected by voters in Puerto Rico.
As a state, Puerto Rico would have seven voting legislators in the House and Senate. As a territory, Puerto Rico just doesn’t have these representatives. Puerto Rico has a president who is elected by the states. But nobody is electing senators or members of Congress for Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico just doesn’t have any senators, or any voting members of Congress.
If Puerto Rico doesn’t have a voting representative in Congress, who makes the decisions for Puerto Rico?
The legislators for the states. Senators from Florida, Texas, Oregon, and Kansas make decisions for Puerto Rico.
This means that the people who make decisions for Puerto Rico are elected by voters who don’t even live in Puerto Rico. Is the average voter in Kansas thinking about the effect of her vote on Puerto Rico? Maybe not.
Puerto Ricans affect the vote in Florida and New York
Almost half of the Puerto Ricans living in the states are in Florida or New York. Headlines have been telling us that candidates in Florida are paying a lot of attention to Puerto Rican voters. Some of the representatives from these states have Puerto Rican roots themselves. If you live in Florida or New York, your congresspeople will listen to what you have to say about Puerto Rico.
But what if you live in Kansas? Your representative gets as much say in the future of Puerto Rico as the congressperson from Florida. Your representatives might not have Puerto Rico on their minds — unless you let them know that it matters to you.
Statehood for Puerto Rico requires just a simple majority in Congress. One vote can make the difference. Contact your legislators and let them know that you want equality for Puerto Rico through statehood.