Puerto Ricans Win Right to Vote on Nov. 7

Article excerpt

Eighty percent of the eligible population votes in Puerto Rico, but until now they have been unable to cast ballots for president and vice president.

A federal court decision could change that.

U.S. District Senior Judge Jaime Pieras ruled Aug. 29 that Puerto Ricans, as American citizens, have the right to vote in U.S. presidential elections.

Judge Pieras said use of the term "state" in Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution does not mean that American citizens residing in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections. He found that the definition of "state" has evolved over the years.

Judge Pieras ordered the government of Puerto Rico "to organize the means by which the United States citizens residing in Puerto Rico will vote in the upcoming and subsequent presidential elections and to provide for the appointment of presidential electors."

Puerto Rico's ruling party quickly passed a law implementing the judge's decision - and the U.S. Justice Department quickly filed an appeal.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston heard oral arguments in the case Oct. 5.

Justice Department attorney Matthew Collette argued that Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution reserves the right to vote for president and vice president to the states. Since Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, its citizens do not qualify as voters. Puerto Rico would have to become a state, he said, or Congress would have to pass an amendment to the Constitution allowing residents of Puerto Rico to vote.

Juan R. Torruella, a Puerto Rican and chief justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, noted that voting is a fundamental right according to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Mr. Collette responded, "This right [to vote for president] is not applicable when the Constitution forbids it."

The Justice Department has asked for a quick decision, before Nov. 7.

Meanwhile, the court case has stirred political passions.

The ruling New Progressive Party (NPP) supports Judge Pieras' decision because it believes voting in the presidential elections will bring Puerto Rico closer to statehood.

The opposition Popular Democratic Party (PDP), which favors Puerto Rico's current commonwealth status, believes the ruling party is trying to divert attention from other controversial issues, including government corruption and misuse of funds. …