“Democrats have made expanding voting rights a top priority,” George Laws Garcia, executive director of the Puerto Rico Statehood Council. wrote in Newsweek. “Yet over the course of this discussion and public debate, the president and top federal lawmakers have completely ignored the lack of voting rights for the over 3 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico. If they are serious about voting rights for all Americans, they cannot ignore the undemocratic current territory status of Puerto Rico, which denies full voting rights to all island residents.”
Residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections, even though people born on the Island have been birthright citizens of the United States since 1917. Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, also has no senators and just one representative in Congress, who also does not have equal voting rights.
“The omission is particularly glaring given that voters in Puerto Rico have now rejected continuing under the unequal territory status and favored statehood among the viable non-territory options three times in the last decade,” Laws Garcia continued. “Such a change would not only bring full voting rights to over 3 million Latino voters on the island, but would provide equal treatment under federal laws without which Puerto Rico cannot fully recover and reach its maximum economic potential.”
Make an offer
To be consistent, Laws Garcia says, Congress and the White House must pass legislation that will resolve the political status of Puerto Rico. This legislation should include an offer of statehood from Congress to the voters of Puerto Rico.
The current statehood bill, HR 1522, calls for Congress to do just that. The voters can then ratify the offer and accept statehood for Puerto Rico. This is the process Hawaii and Alaska went through when they became states in the 20th century.
“Simply put,” Laws Garcia concludes, “one of the most important ways that Congress can expand voting rights in America today is to respect the will of most voters in Puerto Rico who have already requested full equality and democracy through statehood.”