One of the areas of inequality stemming from Puerto Rico’s being a territory of the United States rather than a state is the fact that residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections. While presidential primaries are held on the Island, it is not the individual people of the United States who vote in presidential elections, but representatives of the states in a group called the Electoral College.
No state, no vote.
The District of Columbia’s residents were given a vote in presidential elections in 1961, and it took a constitutional amendment. The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution gives D.C. three electoral votes. Like Puerto Rico, however, D.C. has no vote in Congress. They have an elected representative who is not allowed to vote, just like Puerto Rico. This gives both D.C. and Puerto Rico a voice in Congress, but much less influence than the states have.
Recently, former president Bill Clinton gave an affirmative answer to the question, “Should Puerto Ricans vote for president and the U.S. Congress.”
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said that she believes all U.S. citizens should be able to vote for president, regardless of where they live.
There have been discussions recently on giving Puerto Rico the right to vote for president just as D.C. was given that right, possibly using the same mechanism: an amendment to the Constitution. Giving the Resident Commissioner voting rights in Congress would not require a constitutional amendment; the Congress could just choose to give that right in the same way they chose to allow the Resident Commissioner to sit with the rest of the members of the House and in committees. In fact, the current Resident Commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, was at one time allowed to vote unless his vote caused or broke a tie.
If Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state of the Union, residents would automatically gain the right to vote in presidential elections, and would also have about five congressional representatives (with votes) and two senators. This would give Puerto Rico far more influence and full participation in the democratic process in the United States. The Island would also be treated equally with the states and the U.S. Constitution, which now is not applied completely to Puerto Rico, would apply to all the residents of Puerto Rico.
Allowing Puerto Ricans to vote in presidential elections and giving the Resident Commissioner the power to vote in Congress would not automatically provide equal rights as statehood would, but it would represent progress towards the full equality that statehood would provide.