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A Page from History: When Puerto Rico (Almost) Got to Vote in a Presidential Election

On July 19, 2000, Senior District Court Judge Jaime Pieras declared that the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico had a constitutionally protected right to vote for the President and Vice President of the United States. The court ordered the territorial government of Puerto Rico to  appoint electors — the members of the Electoral College who actually vote for the President of the United States.

The Government of Puerto Rico printed ballots with the names and pictures of George W. Bush and Al Gore.

The Igartúa cases

Three cases went to court in the 20th and early 21st century demanding that U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico be given the right to vote in presidential elections. In the first case, known as Igartúa I, the court dismissed the case quickly, saying, “the President is to be chosen by electors who, in turn, are chosen by ‘each state . . .” and “only citizens residing in states can vote for electors and thereby indirectly for the President.” Because Puerto Rico is not a state, “it is not entitled under Article II to choose electors for President, and residents of Puerto Rico have no constitutional right to participate in that election.”

This decision was made in 1994. The 23rd amendment, which allowed U.S. citizens in Washington D.C. to vote in presidential elections, was ratified in 1961. The court pointed this out, and decided that a similar amendment tot he U.S. Constitution would be required to give Puerto Rico the vote, unless the territory became a state.

Igartúa II came up in April, 2000, and the court finally stated in August that “”that the United States Citizens residing in Puerto Rico have the right to vote in Presidential elections and that its electoral votes must be counted in Congress.” However, the United States appealed the decision. In October, 2000, the court of appeal pointed to Igartúa I, since the cases were nearly identical. The case had already been decided, they said, and they had to stand with the decision from Igartúa I.

However, Judge Juan Torruella wrote a separate opinion. “As I did in Igartua I, I join the Court’s opinion in this appeal because I believe it to be technically and, as the law now stands, legally correct in its conclusion that the Constitution does not guarantee United States citizens residing in Puerto Rico the right to vote in the national Presidential election,” he said. “I am, however, compelled to write separately because I can no longer remain silent to the subjacent question, because from my perspective, there are larger issues at stake…The national disenfranchisement of these citizens ensures that they will never be able, through the political processes, to rectify the denial of their civil rights in those very political processes.”

Torruella continued, “The perpetuation of this colonial condition runs against the very principles upon which this Nation was founded. Indefinite colonial rule by the United States is not something that was contemplated by the Founding Fathers nor authorized per secula seculorum by the Constitution.”

Gregorio Igartúa de la Rosa sued for the right to vote five times in all.

Law 403

The actions taken by the territorial government, including printing the ballots, were governed by Law 403. The appeals court for Igartúa I sent Law 403 to the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico. Since the U.S. had decided that Congress did not need to count votes from Puerto Rico, the Supreme Court on the Island decided that holding the election would have no “practical legitimate consequence whatsoever”, and canceled it. Their reasoning was that it would require the spending of public money for a vote which would not be counted.

More than half a million dollars had already been spent and absentee ballots had been mailed. Less than a month before the election, the vote was canceled.

1 thought on “A Page from History: When Puerto Rico (Almost) Got to Vote in a Presidential Election”

  1. I remember that clearly back in 2000. The main effort behind canceling the the local vote was the scum populares.
    They didn’t really care about the cost the money was already spent. Rather, they feared the results and the ramifications if for example George W bush were to perform exceptionally well in Puerto Rico, maybe even win.
    This would have been apocalyptic to the Commonwealth movement. For one of the great so-called infallible pillars of the Commonwealth is the myth Puerto Rico would never vote Republican.

    Since the status quo is the belief Republicans cannot win in Puerto rico, it was to the benefit of the populares to make sure it stayed that way in public opinion. The local vote had to be killed to protect the anti-statehood myth Puerto Rico would never vote GOP.
    The populares Democrats have spent Millions in past decades lobbying *SELECT* US Senate GOP lawmakers already hostile to PR on the idea Puerto Rico is fatal to the GOP.

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