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Why Can’t Puerto Rico Vote for President?

If you live in Puerto Rico, you are probably a U.S. citizen. People born in Puerto Rico are citizens at birth, just as people born in States are.

As a resident of Puerto Rico, you are subject to the laws of the United States, you’ll contribute to the federal Medicare and Social Security programs out of every paycheck as well as income tax on wages earned in the States, and you can serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. You can travel to and from States without a passport, and you can legally live and work in any State.

As long as you live in Puerto Rico, though, you can’t vote in presidential elections.

You can vote in party primaries, either Democratic or Republican, but not in the actual presidential election.

Why can’t residents of Puerto Rico vote in presidential elections?

The answer is simple, but surprising. American citizens don’t actually elect the President of the United States. States do. Since Puerto Rico is not a State, Puerto Rico doesn’t get a vote.

U.S. citizens may think they’re voting for their president, but their votes actually go to choose a member of the Electoral College. The Electoral College elects the president.

Members of the Electoral College usually vote the way the majority of the people who elected them did, but in many States they don’t have to. Either way, they represent their State. Only States get to vote for president.

This is why the popular vote can be different from the Electoral College vote. When it is, the person elected by the Electoral College is President of the United States.

It doesn’t matter where you’re born.

A person born in Oregon but living in Puerto Rico can’t vote in presidential elections. Puerto Rico, since it is not a State, doesn’t get a voice in the choice of U.S. President.

A person born in Puerto Rico but living in Oregon can vote in presidential elections. Oregon is a State, and all States get a say in the choice of president.

It’s as simple as that.

Unfortunately, a territory also has very limited representation in Congress. Puerto Rico has one non-voting member of Congress, the Resident Commissioner.  Puerto Rico has no senators. As a state, Puerto Rico would have seven representatives in the legislature.

Naturally, Puerto Rico has less political power with either Congress or the White House than States do. The diaspora — the 5 million plus people of Puerto Rican heritage living in the States — often has more political influence than the territory of Puerto Rico does, because they have votes.

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