With all of the math and number crunching going on in the final days leading up to the election, it’s easy to forget that while some of us might complain about living in a state where it feels like our vote doesn’t matter — because it’s ruby red or true blue — at least, at the end of the day, we have the ability to vote for president. The upwards of 3 million U.S. Citizens in Puerto Rico don’t get to vote at all for one simple but to many (like me, for instance) unfair reason: they don’t live in a U.S. state or the District of Columbia. Instead, this island — which might otherwise have as many as 7 electoral votes — gets zero say in choosing our president.
The source of the problem is that the U.S. Constitution gives the power to choose electors to states, not to the people. Article 2, Section 1 of 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.” U.S. Citizens are never mentioned.
This set-up is different from the party primaries, which do grant delegates to Puerto Rico; however, the parties are allowed to make up their own rules on how they run their primaries, and can include whomever they want.
Puerto Rico, which is technically an unincorporated territory, has no representation in the Senate, gets only one non-voting representative in the House, and as mentioned, has no Electoral College votes (nor, it should be mentioned, do any of the other island territories, which include the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Marianas).
Here are two possible ways to fix this, though neither of them is easy. The first would be to amend the Constitution to allow territories electoral votes. This was done once before in 1961 with the 23rd Amendment, which afforded the District of Columbia the same number of electoral votes as the least populous state — that is, three votes. But with an intractable Congress, it seems unlikely that the two-thirds majorities needed to merely propose such an amendment could be assembled.
The other way, of course, would be to make Puerto Rico a state. This issue is even more charged than the Amendment process, as Puerto Ricans themselves aren’t of a single mind on the issue. Add in the complications of what a 51st state would mean in terms of rebalancing the House of Representatives and the Electoral College, and Puerto Rico’s statehood might be seen by the other states as a threat — which is a problem considering Congress must vote to grant statehood to any territories petitioning for it.