Puerto Rico has elections for important office only every four years, not every two years. The Puerto Rico Delegate to the U.S. House, and the Governor, have four-year terms, up in presidential election years. The federal National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires that states (as well as Puerto Rico) not remove voters from the registration rolls unless or until they miss two elections. But Puerto Rico law says voters should be removed from the rolls if they miss voting in one election. On October 17, a U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico ruled that the federal law has precedence over Puerto Rico law, and ordered that the 330,902 voters who had been removed from the registration rolls because they didn’t vote in 2008 be restored to the rolls. But late on October 18, the First Circuit reversed that, saying it isn’t practical to put the voters back on the rolls. They cannot now vote, because it is too late for them to re-register. The First Circuit vote was 2-1. The majority include Judges Kermit Lipez, a Clinton appointee; and Jeffrey Howard, a Bush Jr. appointee. The dissenter is Judge Juan Torruella. On October 19, one of the voters who had filed the case asked for a rehearing en banc.
Puerto Rico is voting in November not only for Governor, and for Delegate to the U.S. House, but on a ballot measure about the future status of the island. Voters are first asked if they favor the status quo or not. Then, they are asked which of these three options they prefer, should the status quo change: (1) independence; (2) statehood; (3) a recognition that Puerto Rico is a sovereign nation but one which would continue to be linked to the U.S. government in many ways. The intense interest in this ballot question makes the decision to exclude 330,902 voters especially contentious.