Six U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands saw their hopes of being able to vote for President in November take a step backward as a federal court ruled on Tuesday that Congress can deny the right to vote for state residents who move to certain U.S. territories while protecting it for those who move to other territories or a foreign country. Still pending are plaintiffs’ claims that a similar Illinois law also violates equal protection. Lead plaintiff Luis Segovia, a U.S. citizen who lives in Guam, served an 18-month tour in Iraq with the U.S. Army followed by a 10-month tour in Afghanistan as part of the Guam National Guard, yet as things stand he won’t be able to vote for President in November. Three other plaintiffs are also veterans – two from Puerto Rico and another from Guam. Also joining the lawsuit is the Iraq Afghanistan and Persian Gulf Veterans of the Pacific, based in Guam, and the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands. The case is part of a broader effort to secure voting rights in U.S. territories and the District of Columbia through a new constitutional amendment.
Under the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (“UOCAVA”) and Illinois’ Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (“MOVE”) law, a former resident of Illinois who is now a resident of the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, or a foreign country can continue voting for President and voting representation in Congress in Illinois by absentee ballot. But plaintiffs – each a former resident of Illinois – have lost full enjoyment of their right to vote by virtue of living in Puerto Rico, Guam, or the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“It defies the Constitution’s promise of equality that Luis Segovia – who has served deployments in both Iraq and Afghanistan – cannot vote for President because he lives in Guam, but could if he lived 135 miles away in the Northern Mariana Island. The right to vote as a U.S. citizen should not depend on where you happen to live,” said Neil Weare, co-counsel for plaintiffs and President and Founder of We the People Project, which advocates for equal rights and representation for the nearly 5 million Americans living in U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.