Quirks of federal law and a century-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling about the shipment of oranges keep residents of territories like the U.S. Virgin Islands from having the right to vote in presidential elections. The We the People Project – a non-profit based in Washington, D.C. – thinks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act is the right time for a legal challenges to change the antiquated rules. Neil Weare, president and founder of the We the People Project, said millions of Americans are denied a critical constitutional right due to the “legal fiction” created in a 1901 suit in which a Puerto Rico businessman sued the customs inspector for the port of New York, arguing that he shouldn’t have to pay import duties on oranges shipped to the city from the then newly acquired territory of Puerto Rico. The high court ruled that territories were not defined as a part of the United States in the matter of revenues, administrative efforts, and voting.
As a result, “if you were born in the Virgin Islands and you move to the states, you have the right to vote for president,” Weare said. “Citizenship is supposed to be the same thing everywhere, but that’s not true. It’s more a geographic discrimination.”
He said it is outrageous that someone can move from New York state to North Korea “and your right to vote remains protected. But if you move to the Virgin Islands or one of the other territories, you lose that right.”
he effort Weare is overseeing has one basic goal: “The second-class status of Americans in the territories and Washington, D.C., violates our most basic democratic and constitutional principles. Representation and the right to vote should not depend on where you live in the United States,” he said. “Contrary to the Supreme Court’s controversial and outdated decisions in the Insular Cases, which established a doctrine of ‘separate and unequal’ status for Americans in overseas territories, Congress should not have the power to turn constitutional rights on and off in U.S. territories.”