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Should Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Be Allowed to Vote?

Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner is officially nonvoting — but in the past those in this position have been allowed to vote on the floor, being asked to abstain only when their votes would make a difference to the outcome of a vote. Since a single vote rarely determines the outcome, Puerto Rico had a means of sharing its views, even if the votes didn’t have an effect on decisions made in Congress.

According to The Hill, Resident Commissioner Pierluisi had some complaints about a decision by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) forbidding congressional delegates from U.S. territories to vote on the floor in the 112th Congress. “I resent it,” Pierluisi is quoted as saying.

Allowing Puerto Rico to have this small measure of participation, as former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) did, had some advantages, Pierluisi argued:

  • Puerto Ricans were able to track the record of their Resident Commissioner, and see what stands were being taken.
  • Although the Resident Commissioner’s vote was a courtesy and not actual representation, it did allow others to see Puerto Rico’s position. Without the courtesy vote, there is no opportunity for even that amount of representation.
  • It gave Puerto Ricans a sense of participation. “We were participating in the process,” Pierluisi was quoted as saying, “and that’s healthy in a democracy.”

In May, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case asking for voting representation in Congress. According to Fox News, a federal district judge initially “threw out the lawsuit, and the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision, saying that since Puerto Rico was not a state, it could not have a voting member of Congress.”  The Supreme Court’s denial of the appeal means that the First Circuit’s holding will be the final word in this case.

The Resident Commissioner position is often described as “a voice, but not a vote.” Removing the small courtesy of allowing symbolic votes weakens the voice of Puerto Rico.

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