Rodney Cruz was born an American citizen. He did a tour in Iraq during 10 years in the Army, and was wounded on the battlefield three times, eventually suffering a traumatic brain injury. His enlistment followed in the footsteps of many of his relatives, an unbroken line of military service. Five successive generations of his family have put their lives on the line for the country, but like four million other Americans in the U.S. territories, Cruz, as a resident of Guam, is constitutionally barred from voting in federal elections. But with some help from a brand-new legal platform, Cruz intends to change that. As the founder of the Iraq-Afghanistan Persian Gulf Veterans of the Pacific, Cruz is one of the lead plaintiffs in the Segovia v. Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners’ case, a lawsuit seeking to challenge the prohibition on residents of U.S. territories voting in federal elections. The suit is one of several recent legal challenges around the issue of voting rights, sovereignty, and citizenship in the U.S. territories. After the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled against the plaintiffs and denied a motion for summary judgment last year, the plaintiffs and a nonprofit voting-rights organization called We the People Project turned to crowdfunding to finance an appeal to the U.S. Seventh Circuit court.
Articles about voting issues in Guam.
The Guam Election Commission will begin removing inactive voters next month in line with public law, reducing current voter registration numbers of more than 51,000 down to about 46,000. Local law requires the cancellation of inactive voters’ registration after voters fail to participate in the two most recent general elections, in this case the 2014 and 2016 general elections. Guam Election Commission Executive Director Maria Pangelinan said there are approximately 5,318 names of voters on the current list that will be purged by Feb. 24.
An appellate court decision in a voting rights case in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands may weigh heavily on a similar lawsuit here at home on who can vote for Guam’s political status. “This is basic civics; this is fundamental civics that everyone regardless of race has a right to vote,” proclaimed Dr. Ron McNinch of the University of Guam. Shortly before the new year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision on CNMI resident John Davis’ case against the Commonwealth Election Commission. Davis filed a lawsuit alleging a CNMI law “unconstitutionally limit(s) voting on the basis of race.” McNinch broke it down, saying, “The Davis CNMI case, the Davis v. The CEC case is a case about voting over land issues in the CNMI, and the CNMI developed kind of like Guam developed, its own kind of resident, traditional resident only voting process where if you didn’t fit a certain category of voter, you couldn’t vote.
A legal battle to gain equal voting rights for residents of the U.S. territories was dealt a setback after a federal judge in Illinois this week ruled that former Illinois residents who live in the territories, including Guam, do not have the right to cast absentee ballots in Illinois. Six U.S. citizens, who all are former Illinois residents now living in Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, jointly filed a lawsuit in Illinois’ northern district court last November with the nonprofit groups Iraq, Afghanistan and Persian Gulf Veterans of the Pacific and the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands. Under the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act and Illinois’ Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment law, former Illinois residents have the right to vote for president and Illinois’ Congressional representation, provided that they live in the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa or a foreign country. The group argued that the statutes allowing them to vote in particular areas but not certain U.S. territories are a violation of their equal protection rights, according to court documents.
Starting next week, island residents can begin in-office voting. And for the first time, the Guam Election Commission will be utilizing a new machine that will help voters with disabilities vote independent and privately. “It’s a long time coming and to finally have it here on Guam, it’s overwhelming,” expressed Mangilao resident Gerard Cruz may be blind, but this coming election, he’s looking forward to casting his vote. “Freedom – that’s the only way I can describe it to come in to vote independently and privately on my own without the assistance of somebody reading to me the ballot and then marking it down for me, I can do everything on my own as I did when I was sighted before.”
If you’re a teenager looking to be involved in politics, this is your lucky year. The Guam Legislature recently passed Substitute Bill No. 279-33, which grants individuals who are 17 on the date of a primary election the ability to vote in that primary, as long as the individual will be 18 on the date of the general election that immediately follows. “I think this bill is a great idea,” says Shania Spindel, a Guam Youth Congress representative. “It will be our generation that will be experiencing what the next representatives have to offer.” The new bill will be applied to Guam’s upcoming primary on Aug. 27.
The federal government is asking an Illinois federal judge to throw out a case challenging how voter rights are extended to the territories, saying the plaintiffs’ issue should be with the state, not the feds. Guam resident and National Guard Staff Sgt. Luis Segovia and five others — plus two veterans groups — filed a lawsuit in November 2015 saying they were unconstitutionally deprived of their rights to participate abroad in Illinois elections. All of the plaintiffs are former Illinois residents. They have targeted the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act and the Illinois Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act. Those laws allow military members and overseas citizens to participate in Illinois elections even if they live outside the United States. However, the law defines the United States to include the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The rights of those who live in the states can differ from the rights held by residents in the territories. That’s one argument Guam’s attorney general’s office is making in a case challenging the island’s long-awaited political status vote. Guam resident Arnold Davis in 2011 challenged the island’s pending plebiscite after he wasn’t allowed to register for it. The plebiscite is a non-binding vote, intended to measure the preferred political status of Guam. Davis’ legal counsel said the plebiscite violates his fundamental right to vote. In a response filed Dec. 4, the AG states “even if the right to vote is fundamental in the several states, it does not follow that it is necessarily so in the territories.”
The City of Chicago’s board of election commissioners Friday filed their response to an ongoing voting rights lawsuit filed by territorial residents. The suit is challenging laws that gives some overseas citizens and military members the ability to participate in federal elections, while others cannot. Neil Weare, an attorney in the case, said the case is also part of a broader effort to raise awareness about the issue of voting rights in the U.S. territories. Weare is a former Guam resident. Six former Illinois residents, all now living in Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, filed the case in Illinois’ federal court.
While serving in the U.S. Army, Yona resident Luis Segovia spent an 18-month tour in Iraq, helping provide security during the country’s 2005 elections. He also served a 12-month tour in Afghanistan with the Illinois National Guard and another 10-month tour in Afghanistan with the Guam National Guard. Although collectively serving his country in both conflict areas for more than three years, Segovia, a former resident of Illinois and current staff sergeant for the Guam National Guard, can’t vote in presidential elections as a resident of Guam. “On Veterans Day, it’s hard to be treated like I am good enough to risk my life defending democracy, but not good enough to vote for my Commander-in-Chief,” Segovia said in an email.