On Monday, actor Tim Robbins of Shawshank Redemption fame made an ill-considered political dig against Hillary Clinton by making a punchline of disenfranchised voters in Guam, declaring at a Bernie Sanders rally that “winning South Carolina in a Democratic primary is about as significant as winning Guam.” Less than 24 hours later, Senator Elizabeth Warren took a stand for Americans who call Guam and other U.S. territories home, arguing at a Senate hearing that “the four million people who live in the territories are not the subjects of a King. They are Americans. They live in America. But their interests will never be fully represented within our government until they have full voting rights just like every other American.” As Senator Warren explained, Americans living in U.S. territories “are subject to federal law. More than 150,000 people from these islands have served our country in the Armed Forces – and many have died in that service.”
Continuing, she highlighted that “these four million Americans have almost no say at all in federal decision-making even when it directly affects the islands they live on. They can’t vote in presidential elections. They have no Senators. And each territory gets only one non-voting Representative in the House.”
Senator Warren unpacked things further still, noting that a resident of Guam can gain the right to vote for President by moving to California, and can even keep voting for President if she then moves to Italy. But if she ever moves back to Guam, that right once again is denied. “This is absurd,” Senator Warren said to her colleagues, “four million Americans live on American soil and can fully participate in our democracy – but only if they leave home. At their homes – on U.S. soil – all of their representational rights disappear.”
This isn’t just absurd, it’s unconstitutional. In Segovia v. Board of Election Commissioners – a federal voting rights lawsuit we have filed on behalf of residents of Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico who would be able to vote for President if they lived literally anywhere else in the world – we argue that the right to vote should not depend on where you happen to live.