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The Hartford Courant
Puerto Rico And The Election
September 7, 2000
For people who love to vote, Puerto Ricans must feel understandable frustration this campaign season. They cannot participate in the November presidential election because their Caribbean U.S. commonwealth is not a state although its residents are U.S. citizens.
Yet to some extent that has been their choice. Puerto Ricans have had opportunities to vote for independence, statehood or the status quo. In every instance, the results have favored the status quo. So a federal judge's order last week that would allow Puerto Ricans to vote for president this fall is unlikely to stand for long, nor should it.
The Constitution couldn't be clearer on this matter: Only states can elect presidents. Each state has one electoral vote for each member it sends to the U.S. House and Senate. (The so-called Electoral College has thrice elected presidents with fewer popular votes than their rivals: Benjamin Harrison in 1888, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 and John Quincy Adams in 1824.)
There are periodic calls to replace the Electoral College with the popular vote. Until that happens, Puerto Ricans will have no final say in electing a president -- even though the island has enough people to give it eight electoral votes, the same number as Connecticut, and even though turnout of its 2.4 million registered voters often surpasses 80 percent in local elections.
Critics are right to point out that the island's last plebiscite on statehood , independence or status quo, in 1998, was confusing and non-binding. A clear and binding referendum should be held.
Meanwhile, the federal judge's directive will probably be appealed, and for good reason. No single judge should decide Puerto Rico 's status by granting its people a right the Constitution clearly denies.