The people of Puerto Rico are natural-born citizens of the United States. This has been true since 1917, when Congress gave citizenship to everyone born in Puerto Rico. Yet people who live in Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections, because the people of the United States don’t vote directly for president. They vote instead for Electors in the Electoral College, who vote on behalf of the state in which they reside.
Since Puerto Rico is not a state, the people of Puerto Rico have no vote in presidential elections.
While many people have pointed out the unfairness of this situation, Alan Grayson, Congressional representative for Florida, recently brought it up again in Congress. Congress is the entity that is capable of making Puerto Rico a state, as Puerto Ricans voted for the 2012 referendum. In response to that vote, the federal government set aside funds for one more referendum, the first federally sponsored plebiscite, which is expected to take place in 2017.
Grayson had another idea, though.
“Women and African-Americans were once denied this basic voting right,” he reminded his listeners from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. “Now it is American citizens who reside in Puerto Rico who suffer this disenfranchisement.”
He pointed out that Puerto Ricans who move to the mainland can vote and that Puerto Rico votes in presidential primaries and sends delegates to the Republican and Democratic party conventions.
Even so, he continued, “they are denied this very basic right to help choose the president and vice-president merely for living where they do.”
Grayson pointed out that Puerto Rico is the most populous of the U.S. territories. In fact, Puerto Rico has a larger population than all of the other territories combined and more residents than 28 of the 50 states. Comparing Puerto Rico not only to the U.S., Grayson said, “In all of the world’s democracies, Puerto Rico is the largest territory by population that cannot choose our national elected official. Three and a half million Americans in Puerto Rico have no say in who serves as President of the United States.”
While statehood would solve the problem automatically, Grayson suggested another course of action. “The solution to this problem,” he said, “is a simple one, and we have accomplished it before. Fifty-five years ago, the District of Columbia was granted electors to the electoral college with the passage of the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution. Like Puerto Rico now, the District of Columbia was not and is not a State.”
Grayson went on to propose a joint resolution calling for an amendment to the Constitution to treat Puerto Rico as if it were a state for the purposes of presidential elections.
The Orlando Political Observer reported that Grayson also said, in other remarks, “This is long overdue. If we ask Puerto Rican men and women to fight and die for our country, we must allow them to choose the Commander in Chief who will decide that fate…We must give Puerto Ricans the right to vote for President.”
Grayson did not seek reelection for his House seat in the 2016 election, opting instead to run for the U.S. Senate. He lost in the Democratic primary to Rep. Patrick Murphy, who ultimately lost to Sen. Marco Rubio (R), and will be replaced in the House by State Senator Darren Soto, who is the first Floridian of Puerto Rican heritage elected to the U.S. Congress.