The New York Times recently reported on comments by Hillary Clinton in Puerto Rico about the territory’s status in presidential elections:
But she also has an eye on the general election. Puerto Ricans are increasingly moving to Central Florida, where they are a key voting bloc in the swing state. In the past two elections, they have turned out in large numbers, helping hand President Obama his two victories in Florida. And she hinted at as much as she closed her remarks in Puerto Rico. “It always struck me as so indefensible that you can’t vote for president if you live here,” she said with a slight smile. “But if you move to Florida — which, of course, I’m just naming a state — you can vote for president.”
What may be “so indefensible” is, perhaps, simply a misunderstanding of what the Electoral College is, and has been for over 200 years. The President is elected by the electors of the several States–and, as Puerto Rico is not a State, just as the District of Columbia (prior to a special exception in the Twenty-Third Amendment), or just as many of the western continental territories prior to states, it is not entitled to vote for the President. The inability to vote, then, is wholly defensible if one understands the Electoral College as a decision of several States, and not simply of citizens (or nationals) of the United States.
That, of course, may raise an important issue of Electoral College reform, and whether such a system should exist. It’s worth noting (for this is rather underdiscussed) that there’s a very real difference between some of the more modest proposals (of dubious constitutionality, as I’ve written) to turn the present Electoral College into a functional national popular vote, and a proposal that might establish an actual national election for the President.