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In the days before the United States presidential election, Kemuel Delgado has been working hard to galvanise voters – even though he and his fellow Puerto Rican islanders are not able to vote themselves.
Delgado, the first Puerto Rican Muslim to represent precinct 029 Hatillo as electoral commissioner, has been urging Puerto Ricans to encourage their relatives and friends to vote on the US mainland, where Latinos are expected to be largest minority voting bloc in the November 3 polls.
“We have no congressional representation in the US despite having more citizens than 21 states,” Delgado told Al Jazeera.
Decolonising Puerto Rico
Disillusioned with the PNP, Delgado left the party in 2017, later joining the anti-colonial Citizen’s Victory Movement when it was created last year. The nascent party, formed from a collective of pro-independence parties, focuses on promoting equality, education and labour reforms, tackling corruption, and the decolonisation of Puerto Rico, which has been an “unincorporated territory” of the US since 1898.
Puerto Ricans have been recognised as US citizens since 1917 and their island’s 3.1 million residents are able vote in US presidential primaries, but they are not allowed to vote in US presidential elections.
Julio Ortiz-Luquis, professor in international politics at the City University of New York, said their political status is entangled in US colonial history.
“Puerto Rico was occupied and colonised as part of US’s imperial expansion in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which also saw the 1848 annexation of half of Mexico, the 1898 Spanish American War, and the occupation of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines,’ he said.
Florida and the Puerto Rican vote
The exodus of Puerto Ricans to the US mainland after Hurricane Maria has lately created enough political gravitas to attract the attention of the campaigns of US President Donald Trump and opponent Joe Biden this election season.
While Trump secured the endorsement from Puerto Rico’s current governor, Wanda Vazquez, the island’s largest circulated newspaper, El Nuevo Dia, endorsed Joe Biden, the first time the paper endorsed a presidential candidate in its 50-year history.
Though voter turnout among Puerto Ricans in the US has historically been low, according to Professor Ortiz-Luquis, labour unions and Puerto Rican organisations such as Vamos4PR, Power 4 Puerto Rico and Boricua Vota have sought to mobilise voters mostly in swing states.
Among these crucial political battlegrounds is Florida, home to the largest Puerto Rican diaspora in the US, with an estimated population of 1.2 million, more than 850,000 of whom can vote.
Ahead of the 2020 vote, Delgado is hopeful that the election of a Democratic president will bring a resolution of Puerto Rico’s statehood question.
While neither Biden nor his vice-presidential running mate Kamala Harris has indicated a clear position on the question of statehood, Republican senators have claimed that the Democrats would make Puerto Rico a state if they win the elections.
On September 16, Biden hinted at his support for statehood at a Hispanic Heritage Month event in Kissimmee, Florida, when he said statehood “would be the most effective means of ensuring that residents of Puerto Rico are treated equally.”
“The people of Puerto Rico must decide, and the United States federal government must respect and act on that,” he added.
Delgado said: “We’re the first colony in the Americas and we’re the last standing. Many Puerto Ricans here are trying to tell Boricuas [Puerto Ricans] in the States, ‘Please vote in the presidential election. Your vote actually determines the future of Puerto Rico.’”
Voter Help Desk
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) accords the right to vote in Federal elections (President, Vice President, U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, or non-voting delegate from DC, PR, GU, etc.) to citizens of the United States who have LEFT the “United States” and moved (temporarily or permanently) to a place that is NOT in the United States.
UOCAVA defines several terms, including the term “United States.” That term, when used in a geographical sense, means the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa. The Northern Mariana Islands have also been added to territories covered under UOCAVA.
For example, let’s say that Joe Smith, a civilian and citizen of the United States, moves from the state of New York to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Is Joe Smith eligible to vote in New York by absentee ballot under UOCAVA?
The answer is NO. Joe Smith has NOT technically left the United States. For UOCAVA purposes, Puerto Rico is just as much part of the United States as New York is, and so Joe will vote as a resident of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Ricans Voted to Become 51st State. But There’s More to Do.
Yvette Gaboury, the proud daughter of two Puerto Ricans, says this vote was all about sending a message.
“That just says ‘this is what our island wants.’ That’s then sent to Washington because the island can’t make this decision. We have to make the decision here and by ‘we’ I mean our legislators,” Gaboury said.
Those living in Puerto Rico are United States citizens and can vote in primary elections, but not the general elections for president. The island has representatives in Washington, but those representatives cannot vote on legislation.
Dinan said giving the island statehood is a political issue.
“Those questions of whether or not it becomes a state are inevitably tied up with partisan considerations of which party would benefit from having Puerto Rico with two senators, having a voting member of the House of Representatives, and having three electoral college votes,” he said.
does puerto rico vote for president 2020
Puerto Rico did not modify any procedures for the November 3, 2020, general election.
- Puerto Rico held its Democratic primary on July 12, 2020.
- Puerto Rico had 58 delegates comprised of 51 pledged delegates and 7 superdelegates. Delegate allocation was proportional.
- The Democratic primary was open, meaning all voters were able to participate in the primary.
Organizers postponed the event in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Prior to the national convention, individual state caucuses and primaries were held to allocate convention delegates. These delegates vote at the convention to select the nominee. In 2020, a Democratic presidential candidate needed support from 1,991 delegates to secure the nomination.
With the plurality of pledged delegates, Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee on April 8, 2020, after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) suspended his presidential campaign. Biden crossed the delegate threshold necessary to win the nomination on June 5, 2020.
Biden announced U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D) as his running mate on August 11, 2020.
- In lieu of a primary, the Republican Party of Puerto Rico conducted an electronic referendum among party leaders on June 5, 2020, as the main event in its presidential nominating process.
- Puerto Rico had 23 delegates comprised of 20 pledged delegates and 3 superdelegates. Delegate allocation was determined by a threshold.
Prior to the national convention, individual state caucuses and primaries were held to allocate convention delegates. These delegates vote at the convention to select the nominee. Trump crossed the delegate threshold necessary to win the nomination—1,276 delegates—on March 17, 2020.
George H.W. Bush (R) was the last incumbent to face a serious primary challenge, defeating political commentator Pat Buchanan in 1992. He was also the last president to lose his re-election campaign. Franklin Pierce (D) was the first and only elected president to lose his party’s nomination in 1856.
Why did Puerto Ricans historically turn out to vote in such high rates, and why did they stop doing so?
Some answers to these questions can be found in Luis Raúl Cámara Fuertes’ 2004 study The Phenomenon of Puerto Rican Voting.
This spectacle consisted in massive grassroots voter registration and mobilization drives, caravans, marches, music, bullhorns, parties, dances, meetings, and a visible party presence at the local level.
Cámara Fuertes raised caution in his 2004 study as he observed the early stages of this dramatic drop in electoral turnout. Over time, voter mobilization efforts dwindled, parties lost their capacity to organize, voters became distracted by other spectacles and questioned the efficacy of their vote.
Political scientist Edgardo Meléndez argued that, under US colonial rule, Puerto Rican elected officials did not have the power to deliver what they promised on the campaign trail. Neither the Republican nor the Democratic party leadership signaled an urgency to address the unresolved issue of Puerto Rico’s status, which José Javier Colón refers to as a downgraded democracy.