A few facts surrounding the presidential race should make us pause and consider the situation of millions of Americans whose future will be shaped by the next Commander in Chief, but who won’t get to vote in November – full, adult, law-abiding U.S. citizens’ voices are being stripped away because of where they live.
John McCain, in the past few weeks, has just about wrapped up the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. If he is the nominee, he’ll be the first president to be born outside the 50 U.S. states.
McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1933. His U.S. citizenship comes not only from the fact that his parents were Americans, but that, at the time, the Canal Zone was a U.S. territory – just as much U.S. soil as California, Florida or New York.
Nearly five million Americans live in U.S. territories. They’re full citizens of the U.S., entitled to move and work freely anywhere in the country, they pay taxes equal to everyone else’s and they fall under the same laws.
But U.S. territories are often forgotten. Many people don’t realize that these regions are even part of the United States, and sometimes people forget that their residents are Americans, too.
But we should remember.
Another U.S. territory, Puerto Rico, may cast the deciding votes in the close contest for the Democratic Presidential nomination.
Just like every state in the nation, six non-states that are part of the U.S. cast votes, too, for delegates to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Puerto Rico has the last scheduled contest in the Democratic race this year, in June. If the race between Hillary and Barack goes down to the wire, at least one U.S. territory will have an important say.
Yet if the general election in November is close, Puerto Rico, since it’s not a state, will have no voice.
In 2009, the statehood quarters series – the special designs on the back of each U.S. quarter, which taught us about Maine’s Permaquid Point Lighthouse and West Virginia’s New River Gorge Bridge – will feature the six territories and special districts that are just as much a part of the U.S. as Colorado.
Educating the public about these forgotten parts of the U.S. will be, I believe, the program’s most important achievement.
What are these U.S. territories and regions?
* The District of Columbia, also known as Washington, DC, which went for nearly 200 years without even a say in presidential elections, and still has no say in Congress. Its 580,000 residents have no voice in the laws that govern them.
* Puerto Rico, whose four million residents – more than Oregon or Oklahoma – would have six representatives in Congress if they didn’t languish in second-class status, and whose 200,000 military veterans have never voted for their Commander-in-Chief.
* The United States Virgin Islands, once a center of the slave trade, came under U.S. protection during World War I, and was central to the defense of the Atlantic Ocean during the war.
* The Pacific Ocean territory of Guam, which during World War II, became the only populated portion of the U.S. to be occupied by a foreign power. The residents of Guam – Americans – were liberated from forced labor camps in 1944, but have never been given equal status with residents of the states.
* The Northern Mariana Islands, where sweatshop factories can legally produce garments with the “Made in the U.S.A.” tag, but are exempt from even some of the most basic labor protections elsewhere in America.
* American Samoa, whose 58,000 residents live in the region that comes first on the United Nation’s list of “non-self-governing territories,” and the only piece of the U.S. whose residents aren’t even classified as citizens, merely “U.S. nationals.”
The injustices done to the residents of U.S. territories run deeper than just the ballot box, but that’s where we should start in reversing this unfortunate situation.
Full representation in Congressional and Presidential elections is the least that our territories are entitled to, because they’re more than “colonies” or “protectorates.” They’re Americans.
Seth Anthony is a chemistry Ph.D. student. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.