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Sunday Telegram Worcester, MA

Puerto Rico’s Choice Statehood, Not Lawsuit, Is Path To Equal Status

September 24, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Sunday Telegram Worcester, MA. All Rights Reserved.

A federal lawsuit aimed at allowing residents of Puerto Rico to vote in presidential elections is misguided.

It also is without legal merit, since the Constitution specifies that members of the Electoral College are to be appointed by the states.

Moreover, the idea of giving Puerto Rican residents the right to vote granted to residents of the 50 states, via federal court litigation, avoids the real issue: whether Puerto Rico should declare its independence from the United States and renounce all citizenship rights; maintain the status quo, or pursue the rights and obligations of full statehood .

Puerto Rico 's status as a U.S. dependency makes its residents U.S. citizens; men are subject to the draft. However, Puerto Ricans do not pay federal income taxes and have neither full representation in Congress nor the right to vote for president.

Surprisingly, a U.S. District Court judge in Puerto Rico recently ruled in favor of the groups who brought the suit. The U.S. Justice Department properly has appealed the inexplicable decision.

Puerto Rico has been part of the United States for more than a century and a self-governing commonwealth for 48 years -- and residents of Puerto Rico remain ambivalent about the situation. In a 1998 nonbinding vote, residents were asked to choose among a range of options, from statehood to independence, and basically endorsed "none of the above."

Most Puerto Ricans value their U.S. citizenship; the independence movement has all but withered away. But residents have yet to decide whether they should continue as a political hybrid, with limited rights, or pursue the full rights and responsibilities of statehood . Only with a clear mandate from the Puerto Rican people will Congress will take action on the issue.

Meanwhile, the ruling that residents of the commonwealth are entitled to the same voting rights as state residents while maintaining the benefits of the status quo cannot be allowed to stand.

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