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Presidential Vote Part Of Larger Issue: San Juan-Washington Relationship Needs Work

Presidential Vote Part Of Larger Issue: San Juan-Washington Relationship Needs Work

September 21, 2000
Copyright © 2000 SUN-SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

Puerto Rico enacted a law last week that would allow residents of this U.S. possession to participate in presidential elections for the first time ever. The new law, passed by the Puerto Rican legislature and signed by Gov. Pedro Rossello last Sunday, isn't likely to survive a court appeal. Yet it raises important issues that should be discussed and debated.

The U.S. Constitution is clear that only residents of states can vote for president. Washington, D.C., is the exception thanks to the 23rd Amendment. On Tuesday, the federal Justice Department appealed a U.S. District Court ruling handed down in July in Puerto Rico that said islanders have a right to vote in presidential elections.

The law is on the Justice Department's side. Puerto Rico is not a state and its residents don't pay federal taxes. Congress, however, made Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens in 1917. This makes island residents eligible for the draft, and they have fought in every American war since World War I.

When some Puerto Ricans argue that citizens who serve in war have the moral right to vote for the commander in chief who sends them into battle, they have a point. Not all Puerto Ricans, however, favor the presidential vote, or statehood for that matter.

The island's pro-commonwealth party, which represents about half the electorate, is opposed to the presidential vote. So is the small pro-independence movement. Puerto Rico 's pro- statehood faction, which controls the legislature and the executive branch, has taken on the fight for the presidential vote.

The president-vote issue is part of the larger picture of U.S.- Puerto Rico relations over the past 102 years. It's time to take a closer look at this relationship and fix whatever democratic problems it still has. This needs to be done both in San Juan and Washington.

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