ONLY RESIDENTS OF PUERTO RICO SHOULD BE ENTITLED TO VOTE IN THE 1998 PLEBISCITE
By Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer, President, Puerto Ricans In Civic Action
Some people in P.R. and on the mainland have the idea that in the upcoming status plebiscite scheduled for 1998, under The US-Puerto Rico Political Status Act, HR 856, Puerto Ricans who are not residents of Puerto Rico, should be permitted to cast erroneously called "absentee" ballots for the status option of their choice. The current wording of HR 856 requires that the election laws of Puerto Rico govern voter eligibility and only residents who otherwise meet electoral requirements can vote. However, some Congressmen, including Jose Serrano of New York, are proposing an amendment to the bill authorizing the approximate one (1) million of the 2.5 million mainland residents of Puerto Rican descent, who are of voting age, to also participate in the plebiscite.
While Serrano's initiative is nothing new, a previous effort, sponsored by him in 1990, went down to defeat in connection with another plebiscite bill that Congress failed to report out of committee. The very notion that this proposal has any rationale is simply ludicrous.
The self-evident impossibility of the mechanics of this proposal dooms it to oblivion. Who qualifies as a Puerto Rican? How do you go about registering 1 million voters scattered throughout the 50 states, not to mention those Puerto Ricans who live abroad? When do they vote, and where? Who's going to print the ballots, hold the election and pay the costs?
Yet, regardless of identification, qualification, logistics and technicalities, the proposal undermines the principle that Americans vote only in the jurisdiction in which they reside. Puerto Ricans living on the island do not vote in Orlando or New York City if they are registered to vote in San Juan. Similarly, why should Puerto Ricans registered to vote in Orlando or New York City be allowed to participate in a plebiscite on Puerto Rico's status?
Now some are saying that this vote is different since it goes to the matter of determining Puerto Rico's political future and, arguably, its cultural identity. But, it makes it all the more repugnant for those who have abandoned Puerto Rico to seek their political futures and economic fortunes in the states, to be allowed to play, perhaps. A critical role, in maintaining a status in Puerto Rico that the remaining residents might have voted to alter, but for the influx of absentee mainland voters.
A second fundamental American voting principle argues against mainland participation. Only those electors bound by the decisions reached at the ballot box should be empowered to cast votes in the determining electoral contest. Since mainland Puerto Ricans will continue to enjoy all the benefits of their current residency, it would be the height of hypocrisy for them to foist on the Puerto Ricans left behind, a political status that they themselves will neither be subject to (unless statehood if chosen) nor restricted by (if independence or the status quo win out).
Of course someone could argue that the plebiscite's outcome could affect Puerto Ricans residing on the mainland, since independence would strip future unborn generations of their statutory American citizenship. However, continued continental residency along with birth on the mainland would perpetuate natural born American citizenship rights for offspring of those statutory Puerto Rican citizens remaining in the states.
Meanwhile, neither maintenance of territorial commonwealth nor a vote for statehood and eventual entry into the Union as the fifty-first state will have any effect on mainland Puerto Ricans' lives, now or in the future. The territorial commonwealth will merely carry forward more of the same for the island's remaining residents, meaning that more and more will emigrate to the mainland for economic, social and political opportunities, while statehood will bring all the benefits and the burdens of US citizenship to Puerto Rico thus obviating the need to go stateside.
But the real and most apparent reason why mainland Puerto Ricans should not be permitted to vote in the plebiscite is that they have already voted against the status quo with their feet. They have left Puerto Rico in search of better economic opportunities, an improved quality of life, and full participation in the political process that the US Constitution guarantees to all Americans resident in the fifty states.
They, all 2.5 million strong, have all voted for statehood by moving to Orlando, San Antonio, Newark, Hartford, New York City, Boston and dozens of other continental cities. And their numbers keep growing as the myth and failure of commonwealth increasingly becomes apparent to our island residents who, with growing impatience, seek to achieve the full fruits of the Constitution as only statehood guarantees.
Some of the 2.5 million mainland Puerto Ricans may indeed yearn to someday return to the island whence they, their parents or grandparents fled to escape colonial status. But to equate the forced exile of the Jews or any other persecuted religious minority with the so called "plight" of the Puerto Rican and his family heading for the continent is to turn history on its head. It provides a facile apologia for the bankruptcy and duplicity of the commonwealth agenda.
Puerto Ricans left the island to seek the better life and economic bounties that was denied them at home, simply because politicians covetous of power conspired with mainland corporations to maintain Puerto Rico's colonial status to their mutual benefit. Denied the opportunity to learn English, the international language of commerce and upward mobility, denied decent jobs with opportunities for advancement, and denied representation in the national legislature as a means of redressing these slights, the mainland offered the only hope for Puerto Ricans to realize the American dream.
Statehood alone offered, and still does, the opportunity to achieve that dream. And it was statehood that drew Puerto Ricans by the millions to the mainland and once there, to the realization of that dream. They may return when that same status governs Puerto Rico, but until such time they will continue to succeed in Florida, New York, Illinois, or wherever else.
Puerto Ricans who truly wish to participate in the 1998 plebiscite can easily do so. All it takes is for any and all of them, is to register to vote in Puerto Rico. By the evidence of that act they will once more demonstrate their commitment to the US Constitution and the principles of democratic responsibility and self-determination.
Puerto Rico's future deserves to be determined by the residents of Puerto Rico and not by the voters of Orlando, the Bronx, the Near North Side or Back Bay. They have already made their decision for statehood. We can make that same decision here and achieve the same cherished goals without leaving home.
Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer can be reached for comments by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.