Puerto Rico is an insular area — a United States territory that is neither a part of one of the fifty states nor a part of the District of Columbia, the nation's federal district. Insular areas, such as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam, are not allowed to choose electors in U.S. presidential elections or elect voting members to the U.S. Congress. This grows out of Article one and Article two of the United States constitution, which specifically mandate that electors are to be chosen by "the People of the several States". In 1961, the 23rd amendment to the constitution extended the right to choose electors to the District of Columbia.
Any U.S. citizen who resides in Puerto Rico (whether a Puerto Rican or not) is effectively disenfranchised at the national level. Although the Republican Party and Democratic Party chapters in Puerto Rico have selected voting delegates to the national nominating conventions participating in U.S. Presidential Primaries or Caucuses, U.S. citizens not residing in one of the 50 States or in the District of Columbia may not vote in Federal elections.
Various scholars (including a prominent U.S. judge in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit) conclude that the U.S. national-electoral process is not fully democratic due to U.S. government disenfranchisement of U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico.
As of 2010[update], under Igartua v. United States, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) is judicially considered not to be self-executing, and therefore requires further legislative action to put it into effect domestically. Judge Lipez wrote in a concurring opinion, however, that the en banc majority's conclusion that the ICCPR is non-self-executing is ripe for reconsideration in a new en banc proceeding, and that if issues highlighted in a partial dissent by Judge Torruella were to be decided in favor of the plaintiffs, United States citizens residing in Puerto Rico would have a viable claim to equal voting rights .
Congress has in fact acted in partial compliance with its obligations under the ICCPR when, in 1961, just a few years after the United Nations first ratified the ICCPR, it amended our fundamental charter to allow the United States citizens who reside in the District of Columbia to vote for the Executive offices. See U.S. Constitutional AmendmentXXIII.51.Indeed, a bill is now pending in Congress that would treat the District of Columbia as “a congressional district for purposes of representation in the House of Representatives,” and permit United States citizens residing in the capitol to vote for members of the House of Representatives. See District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act, S.160, 111th Congress (passed by the Senate, February 26, 2009) (2009).52 However, the United States has not taken similar “steps” with regard to the five million United States citizens who reside in the
other U.S. territories, of which close to four million are residents of Puerto Rico. This inaction is in clear violation of the United States' obligations under the ICCPR.”).
By: Caroline Conejero