The Seventh Circuit heard oral arguments Friday in a case centered on whether residents of Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands should be allowed to vote absentee in their former state of residence. American astronauts in space have a special procedure allowing them to vote, and American citizens living abroad can vote absentee, but five million residents of U.S. territories currently cannot vote for president and have no voting representation in Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of this system, finding that territory residents have no protected right to vote because the territories are “not a part” of the U.S. However, by some strange quirk, federal law requires all states to allow former residents currently living in the Northern Mariana Islands to vote via absentee ballot. Illinois extends this right to former residents living in American Samoa. But former residents residing in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, or Puerto Rico are not allowed to vote absentee.
Six former Illinois residents living in these territories filed suit over this allegedly arbitrary distinction between the territories, seeking the right to cast absentee ballots in their former state. The plaintiffs are represented by We the People, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding voting rights in the territories.
Lead plaintiff Luis Segovia is a U.S. citizen who moved from Illinois to Guam, where he now lives with his family. He served 18 months with the U.S. Army in Iraq, 12 months in Afghanistan with the Illinois National Guard, and 10 months in Afghanistan with the Guam National Guard.