Representing 3.7 Million U.S. Citizens in Congress – All Without the Power to Vote

While Puerto Ricans can’t vote in presidential elections and don’t have U.S.Senators to represent them, they do have someone speaking for them – their Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives. Isn’t that just as good? One or two votes rarely change the result of a vote in Congress, and any speaker can potentially influence many votes.

However you feel about the lack of voting representation for Puerto Rico, there’s another factor that minimizes the voice of Puerto Ricans in Washington. An analysis of the voting records of state Congressional delegations demonstrates that United States citizens residing in Puerto Rico do not enjoy the same range of representation shared by all other U.S. citizens living in the United States.

According to the 2010 Census, Puerto Rico has a population of slightly more than 3.7 million people.  Despite its sizeable population, Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory limits it to only one, non-voting Resident Commissioner. In comparison, states with similar populations have several representatives and two senators representing their interests, all of whom can cast votes.

Oregon, for example, has a population of 3.8 million people and five Members of Congress who represent a broad spectrum of political ideologies. The National Journal scores Members based on their votes on key economic, social, and foreign-policy issues and then rates them along liberal and conservative scales. Based on their 2010 votes, Oregon’s representatives present a real contrast:

  • National Journal ranked Oregon’s Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) at one end of the spectrum as the 43rd most liberal Member, scoring 0 out of 100 on the conservative voting scale for social issues.
  • Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) was  the 296th most liberal member, with 71 out of 100 on the conservative voting scale for social issues.

Similarly, Iowa has a population of 3 million people and five Representatives with significantly different political views to represent them:

  • National Journal ranked Iowa’s Steve King (R) the 35th most conservative Member; on economic issues, Rep. King voted more conservatively than 81 percent of other Members.
  • Rep. Bruce Braley (D) was ranked as only the 353rd most conservative Member and voted more liberally than 88 percent of other Members on economic issues.

The divergent political ideologies of these state delegates showcase the wide variety of interests and viewpoints held by citizens within a single state.  Given that Oregon and Iowa are both comparable in size to Puerto Rico,  it is doubtful, at best, that Puerto Rico’s one – non-voting – Resident Commissioner is able to represent the interests of all Puerto Ricans alone as well as Members of Congress from Oregon and Iowa do as a team.

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