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Puerto Rico and the Electoral College

People born in Puerto Rico are citizens of the United States and can vote in presidential elections — as long as they live in one of the 50 states. If they live in Puerto Rico, they cannot vote for their president. Nor can residents of Puerto Rico who were born in a state vote in the presidential elections. Why not? It comes down to the Electoral College.

The Electoral College is a process culminating in an event that takes place in December each presidential election year, when 538 electors meet and present their votes. There is one elector for each senator a state has, and one for each congressional representative. Since Puerto Rico is a territory rather than a state and has no senators and no voting congressional representatives, Puerto Rico has no electors.

Washington, D.C., has three electors, but this required a constitutional amendment, since D.C. is also not a state. Without a constitutional amendment, Puerto Rico has no electors and therefore no vote in the Electoral College process.

Americans are often unaware of the Electoral College. When Al Gore won the popular vote but George Bush became president, many Americans were shocked. The fact is, we do not vote directly for our president. We vote for our state’s electors, and they vote for president.

Some states require electors to vote for the candidate chosen by the popular vote in the state they represent. Maine and Nebraska are the only states that allow a split vote under certain circumstances. However, the U.S. Constitution does not forbid electors to cast a vote based on their own feelings, and 157 have done so over the course of U.S. history.

So far, it has never happened that a “faithless elector” — those who choose not to vote for the candidate who won in their state — has changed the outcome of an election. It could, in theory, happen. If that were the case, all the celebration at watch parties on Election Day would end with a victory for the other side.

Hillary Clinton has said that she believes all U.S. citizens should be allowed to vote in presidential elections, no matter where they live. This could be accomplished by a constitutional amendment, as it was for D.C. Such an amendment could alter the Electoral College system, or allow electors for U.S. territories. Another alternative for Puerto Rico, the home of the vast majority of disenfranchised U.S. voters, is statehood.

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