In the State of the Union address, President Obama said, “Surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it’s being denied to too many; and that, on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American.”
President Obama was not thinking about the plight of Puerto Rico, where millions of U.S. citizens are denied the right to vote for President, Senate, or voting House representatives, but he should have been. The president was speaking of the Voter Rights Act, which addressed situations in which people with a legal right to vote were being intimidated or otherwise prevented from voting.
Puerto Rico’s situation is different. The citizens of Puerto Rico, because they do not live in a State, do not have the legal right to vote for the Commander in Chief under whom so many of them have served. Because they do not live in a State, they also have very little voice in the government that creates the laws they live under. The people of Puerto Rico, nearly 3.6 million U.S. citizens, have just one House of Representatives member who may vote in committees as long as his vote won’t break a tie.
Many Americans will be surprised by the history of voting rights in the United States. As a people, we do believe that the right to vote is sacred. Puerto Ricans on the mainland can, as citizens, exercise their right to vote. But U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico do not have full voting rights.
The “We the People Project” posted at Facebook, “Ever feel awkward watching the State of the Union because you can’t vote for President? It helps if you try and pretend you aren’t a second-class citizen.”
Puerto Rico has the option to become a state. As a state, Puerto Rico will have representation in the House and Senate, and the people of Puerto Rico will be able to vote in presidential elections. It’s time to make this change.