A group of military veterans living in Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are crowd-funding their appeal to challenge federal voting laws that deny U.S. citizens living in the territories the ability to vote in presidential elections. Americans in the U.S. territories follow the same federal laws, pay billions in taxes and have some of the highest rates of enlistment in the U.S. military, but they say their equal protection rights are being violated based on where they live. People born in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are all U.S. citizens. “I don’t feel that I am a complete person as an American,” said Rodney Cruz, a disabled veteran who served multiple tours in Iraq before his injury in 2008. “I went over, I took a bullet, I did everything that was required of me, but when it comes to electing our commander in chief every four years I’m told, ‘You can’t because you’re a nonvoting citizen.’ ” A native of Guam, Cruz is the sixth generation in his family to serve in the U.S. military. The nonprofit he founded to help veterans with mental health issues – Iraq, Afghanistan and Persian Gulf Veterans of the Pacific – is a plaintiff in the case. Every election year while Cruz was deployed, he said, he felt frustrated watching fellow soldiers cast their absentee ballots.
“These guys are wearing the same uniform you’re wearing, but they get to vote for our president,” he said. “What makes us different? How do you expect a lot of people here to stand proud and say, ‘I am an American and I will serve my country?’ ”
The legal battle for their voting rights was dealt a setback last August when a federal judge ruled that six former Illinois residents living in Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands did not have the right to cast absentee ballots. The group filing the lawsuit says they represent the 4 million Americans who live on U.S. soil in the territories but can’t vote in presidential elections unless they move to the mainland.
Their appeal to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals got a boost this week when it was selected by CrowdJustice, a platform that crowd-funds for public interest lawsuits. Founded in the United Kingdom in 2015, the organization moved up its U.S. launch to be able to represent two Yemeni brothers who were blocked from entering the country after President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban. This is their second U.S. effort.
Full Article: Veterans in US territories crowd fund the legal case for voting rights | McClatchy DC.