While spending my summer on the East Coast, I find myself being asked questions about the upcoming election and its candidates. And with all due respect, I sometimes ask myself, "why the hell do I have to care about the election?" It's not just that I don't agree with both parties' candidates (although I really don't), but I don't really care because, like all Puerto Ricans, we don't have the right to vote in the elections.
Exactly, Jon Stewart. Let me give you a little backstory about Puerto Rico. After the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States of America by Spain. With the Foraker Act in 1900, the U.S. did give Puerto Ricans a small voice in their choice of government officials, but keep in mind, it still let the U.S. government pick the upper house of government in Puerto Rico and its Governor.
Did you know?: The Puerto Rican House of Delegates voted unanimously in favor of independence from the United States in 1914, but Congress considered this "unconstitutional" and in violation of the Foraker Act in 1900.
Puerto Ricans were not even granted citizenship to the U.S. until 1917 with the Jones-Shafroth Act, which restructured the Puerto Rican government into what it is today, although even with this act, Puerto Ricans still wouldn't be able to elect their governor until 1948, when portions of the Jones-Shafroth Act were superseded. Later on, in 1952, Puerto Rico wrote its Consitution, which formally declared its formerly colonial relationship to the U.S. as a "Commonwealth." Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that this is a self-determining title, which, until Congress rules, will not be allowed, and Puerto Rico — along with Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa — is a congressional dependency that has little to no self determination.
Now, let's see how this all ties into the election. As Puerto Rico is not a state, and according to Article II, Section 1, only states may participate in the election process; basically, Puerto Ricans are not allowed to vote in the general election. However, both the Democratic and the Republican party allow Puerto Ricans to vote. Even with all of this, we only have one person, the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, who represents our whole island in the House of Representatives, and he doesn't even have a vote.
Although I'm not the biggest fan of either candidates in this general election, if my home country is still being treated like a colony after 118 years, it makes me ask myself, "does my voice even matter?" "Is my protesting and fighting going to do anything towards some sort of improvement?" Hopefully, some day it will.
For more info (including a great video by John Oliver which explains voting rights in U.S. territories perfectly):
The Alien-Citizen Paradox and Other Consequences of U.S. Colonialism by Ediberto Roman, 1998
Downes v. Bidwell case, 1901
Article on the recent Supreme Court ruling by the Atlantic