What it feels like to be Puerto Rican during the presidential election
It’s time for the US government to give Puerto Rico the right to vote
As I sip on my California Cabernet, a Trump commercial comes on. The words “Make America Great Again” take up the whole TV screen. I wonder how many other people living on the island of Puerto Rico are frustrated with the fact that we don’t have a say in the presidential election.
We are constantly bombarded with information about the candidates and yet we can’t do anything about it. I am angry with the feeling of uselessness imposed on Puerto Ricans living on an island that many Americans think is just a place to escape to for a warm, sunny vacation.
So why can’t Puerto Ricans help elect our next president? The Constitution reads: “Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct a number of electors, equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state may be entitled in the congress.” But it does not confer upon citizens residing in Puerto Rico the right to participate in the national election for president and vice president because Puerto Rico is an American territory, not a state.
Currently, Puerto Rico’s residents may not vote in federal elections, except for a non-voting delegate who has an office on Capitol Hill. The irony is that Puerto Rican voters may participate in the presidential primary process, despite the fact that we cannot vote in the general election. But very few Puerto Ricans know this, which always leads to poor voter turnout during the primaries. I blame the lack of education in schools and by the State Elections Commission of Puerto Rico for this.
The only way we can participate in the presidential election is if the island becomes a state, or if you happen to maintain a residency elsewhere in the US and can either travel there to cast a vote or vote by absentee ballot.
Most people don’t even know that Puerto Ricans are Americans. President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth act in 1917, just a month before the United States entered World War I. This granted US citizenship to the inhabitants of Puerto Rico, and they were quickly recruited to fight in the war.
Many of us feel a sense of belonging along with a sense of rejection. 2016 has been a critical year for us. The economy has gone downhill and it’s causing young people to leave the island at an historical rate — not to mention the implementation of the highest sales tax in America, a whopping 11.5%. About 10.5% of this number was imposed by Puerto Rico’s Department of Treasury, while 1% goes to municipalities. The increase was imposed as a way for the island to pay off its $72 billion debt.
Meanwhile, the media’s exaggerated coverage of the Zika virus also led to a drop in tourism, which resulted in a huge blow to our economy. President Obama signed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) bill in June, causing uproar on the island due to the lack of participation granted to the Puerto Rican government. The creation of a Fiscal Control Board for Puerto Rico was not well received and a series of protests greeted the first public meeting of the board.
We are losing what little sense of control we felt we had.
Not being able to help decide who will be making the decisions for a nation whose laws have a direct impact on your homeland — yet being welcome and encouraged to fight for said nation — is incredibly unfair.
It’s time the US government gave a voice and a sense of security to residents of Puerto Rico, and that begins with granting us the right to vote. Doing so would not automatically provide the equal rights that statehood would, but it would certainly be a big step in the right direction.