Rep. Jim Jordan caused an uproar when he said, “Only Americans should vote in American elections.”
Here’s the background. Washington, D.C., passed a bill allowing non-citizens to vote in some elections. The House voted to overturn that law. Since D.C. is not a state, Congress gets to make the rules for the city. That’s because of the Territory Clause in the U.S. Constitution, which says that “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.” Any possession of the United States that is not a state — including D.C. and also Puerto Rico — is under the authority of Congress. States have specific rights, but Congress gets to make all the rules for territories and other possessions.
Rep. Jordan, a congressman from Ohio, tweeted that “only Americans should vote.”
One response to his tweet was that “In state and local elections, all people living legally in the area affected by the outcome of the elections should be able to vote.”
Things quickly ramped up from there. Reddit actually removed the conversation about that tweet because things got so heated in the conversation.
What about Puerto Rico?
Should non-citizens be able to vote in D.C. or should Congress get to decide? We’re not here to talk about that. We’re thinking about those claims and how they apply to Puerto Rico.
First of all, people born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens. As Americans, we should be able to vote. Yet residents of Puerto Rico, no matter where they were born or what their citizenship, cannot vote in presidential elections.
Puerto Rico also has no voting members of Congress, and no senators at all. So residents of Puerto Rico do not have the chance to vote for senators. There is one non-voting representative in the House, whereas Puerto Rico would, as a state, have four or more voting Members of Congress.
Residents of Puerto Rico are disenfranchised and do not have the voting rights Americans should have.
Taking the other side of the argument, Puerto Rico’s voters also do not have a vote if you accept that “all people living legally in the area affected by the outcome of the elections should be able to vote.” The writer of this statement specified that this should be true in state and local elections, and residents of Puerto Rico do have the right to vote in elections held in the territory. But the principle behind that claim says something more.
People should be able to vote in matters which affect them directly. With no voting representatives in Congress, the people of Puerto Rico have very little voice in decisions which affect the Island directly. Whether it’s a decisions on the cabotage law called the Jones Act, military decisions which affect the many servicemen and women from Puerto Rico, the Farm Bill which directly impacts the economy of Puerto Rico, or even the political status of Puerto Rico, the decisions are made by people who represent states.
Should only Americans vote? You can find discussions of this question all over the web and probably at your local coffee shop or employee lounge right now. We want people having that conversation to consider whether it should not be “All Americans should vote.”
Right now, Americans living in the territories do not have equal voting rights. Reach out to your representatives if you live in a state. Share your voice with the people of Puerto Rico — 3.2 million U.S. citizens who do not have the same voice in American democracy.