Citizens Since 1917 Barred from Voting
Puerto Rico

Court: Puerto Ricans Can't Vote

Millions of U.S. citizens, barred from voting in November. Why are the powerful so afraid of democracy? Here are some excerpts from a recent article by Associated Press writer Justin Pope.

A federal appeals court on Friday ruled that residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections unless the island territory becomes a state or the Constitution is amended.

The ruling overturns a lower court decision that said Puerto Rico's 2.4 million voters do have the right to cast presidential ballots.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cited Article II of the Constitution, which says only states can send electors to the Electoral College. Voters in the District of Columbia were granted presidential voting rights in 1961 by the 23rd Amendment.

Chief appellate Judge Juan R. Torruella issued a separate but concurring opinion sharply critical of what he called the U.S. government's ''national disenfranchisement'' of Puerto Rican citizens.

''The perpetuation of this colonial condition runs against the very principles upon which this nation was founded,'' Judge Torruella wrote.

Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller declined comment on the judge's opinion but said the ruling as a whole was correct.

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Rossello said he plans to hold an election despite the ruling. ''There will be a (presidential) vote on November 7, and we will continue to appeal so those votes are counted in the Congress,'' Rossello told reporters Friday night.

Rossello, whose government has joined the case as a plaintiff, said he was considering whether to appeal to the Supreme Court, as did another plaintiff, attorney Gregorio Igartua.

The voting-rights case was brought by two groups -- one of lifelong Puerto Ricans claiming an inherent right to vote as U.S. citizens, and a second of former residents of the 50 states who returned to Puerto Rico and lost their vote in presidential elections.

The same court ruled against Gregorio Igartua, one of the 11 plaintiffs in this case, in a similar lawsuit in 1994. The court said Friday that nothing had changed since 1994.

Puerto Ricans are allowed to vote in presidential primaries. Congress made Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens in 1917, and they are allowed to vote if they become residents of the mainland. The territory has 3.5 million residents and would have 8 electors in the Electoral College, if they were allowed to cast presidential ballots.

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