Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections, but does have a voice in presidential primaries. In this election year, Puerto Rico had moved its Democratic primary race to March, instead of its traditional date in June, in hopes of highlighting the influence Puerto Rican voters have — in spite of the lack of that presidential election vote.
COVID-19, the global pandemic which is affecting Puerto Rico along with the 50 States, has caused the territory to postpone the planned primary election. Seven states have also postponed their primaries. At this point, the next scheduled primary will be held in Louisiana on April 4th. Puerto Rico will reschedule the Democratic primary no earlier than April 26. The republican primary is scheduled for June 7.
“The amendment to the Presidential Primary Act is a necessary step to preserve public health in the face of the global pandemic. Postponing the primary will also ensure a larger turnout for many Puerto Ricans to express their support for a permanent union with the U.S. and the need for the territory to assert itself, with real decision-making power, as part of the democratic processes of the nation”, Charles Rodríguez, the chair of the Puerto Rico Democratic Party, said. “Both the legislature and the governor highlighted the democratic freedoms and rights that allow us to be a society based on the value of voting, as an expression of the will of the majority of our people.”
Permanent union with the U.S.
Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, a group of islands belonging to the United States but not a State. Since only States send Electors to the Electoral College, Puerto Rico will not participate in the presidential election in November. However, Puerto Rico will send 58 delegates to the National Democratic Convention, and 23 to the Republican National Convention if these events occur as scheduled.
The 3.2 million patriotic U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are taking part in presidential elections as much as possible. The Puerto Rico government is taking steps to make sure their needs are considered in federal plans for COVID-19, and some in Congress are doing the same.
This is not a matter of politics. Leaders from both sides of the aisle recognize that concern for Puerto Rico is important because of our American values.
[T]his is not primarily about Puerto Rico, but about the rest of us. What are our values? What is our culture? How can we make one America in a world and a nation ever more diverse?
President Bill Clinton, Democratic Governors Association Dinner, February 23, 1998
[T]his is a domestic obligation of ours. [Puerto Rico] is not another country.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Relations (video)
Presidential candidates on Puerto Rico
As Puerto Rico shares both election year and the pandemic with the rest of the nation as current issues that affect us all, 2020 presidential candidates hold various positions on Puerto Rico’s status.
Michael Bloomberg, who is no longer in the race, unambiguously supported statehood for Puerto Rico. Tulsi Gabbard, the last candidate to drop out, co-sponsored a statehood admissions bill. Andrew Yang was the other former candidate who made a clear statement of support for statehood.
As Vice President, Joe Biden said that Puerto Rico had to fight for statehood and would get it. He also said that he found Puerto Rico’s current status “very bizarre.”
Bernie Sanders has this statement at his website:
What Has Bernie Said About Statehood For Puerto Rico?
Bernie believes the citizens of Puerto Rico must be the ones to decide on statehood for themselves. While running for President in 2016, Bernie stated that if elected, he would call for a referendum on Puerto Rico’s status.
He was very critical of Trump’s opposition to Puerto Rican statehood based on Trump’s dislike for San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who now serves as one of Bernie’s campaign co-chairs.
Sanders also mentions the possibility of independence for Puerto Rico on the same page, but describes it as “almost impossible.”
President Trump made a statement on Puerto Rico’s political status as a candidate during his 2016 campaign, concluding that “the will of the Puerto Rican people in any status referendum should be considered as Congress follows through on any desired change in status for Puerto Rico, including statehood.”
As President, he sparred with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and at one point claimed that statehood would be an “absolute no” for him as long as she remained in office.
There are many reasons that the issue of Puerto Rico’s political status is relevant to all Americans. Most fundamentally, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:
Make a career of humanity, commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of our country, and a finer world to live in.