Voting is one of the most fundamental rights of U.S. citizens. Congress explicitly states as much in the National Voter Registration Act. Chief Justice Warren invoked the principle when delivering the Reynolds v. Sims opinion in 1964, stating, “undoubtedly, the right to suffrage is a fundamental matter in a free and democratic society.” If you’re a U.S. citizen born and living in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Marina Islands, or Guam, your right to vote in federal and presidential elections is a lot less fundamental than that of citizens living on the mainland. If you’re willing to move to one of the 50 states, you can join the franchise. Even if you move to D.C., you will still have a larger say on who the next president will be than you would if you live in the territories thanks to the 23rd Amendment.
Congress and the Supreme Court have extended the vote to millions of previously disenfranchised citizens through constitutional amendments, federal legislation, and rulings against discriminatory election laws. Yet today more than four million U.S. citizens serve as the exception to the rule because their place of residence disqualifies them from the franchise.
Almost all – about 98 percent – of citizens of U.S. territories are ethnic minorities. American Samoa has the “highest rate of military service of any jurisdiction in America,” but American Samoans aren’t recognized as U.S. citizens and instead are classified as U.S. nationals. And the U.S. Department of Defense owns a quarter of Guam. It’s obvious that decisions made by Congress and the President – officials they can’t elect – impact the lives of territorial Americans.