When the delegates attended the Constitutional Convention and signed the Constitution into effect in 1789, they were creating the supreme law of the United States of America.
However, much has changed since 1789. For one, we’re no longer in an era of the Revolutionary War, and our country has grown in size and scope since then, going from 13 colonies to 50 states.
We’ve come a long way in 226 years.
Some of the governing laws in the Constitution were put into effect in a time vastly different from our modern day and age. And many of these laws have been disputed in recent years. One in particular that has come into the discussion is U.S. territories’ right to vote, because according to the Constitution, only states have the right to vote. The primary elections will soon be upon us, but this is the only part of the election the U.S. territories — American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands — have a say in.
Though the residents of these territories are considered citizens, they do not have the right to vote in the general election, which determines the president and vice president of the U.S. Yet, territories are undoubtedly tied to the U.S. because their federal laws, constitutional laws and economy affect residents of these islands, too. The outcome of the election does in fact affect them, yet they are not given a say in it.
A Huffington Post article citing a John Oliver video reported that even though Puerto Rico has more American citizens than 21 U.S. states, the territory has fewer voting rights than any of those states. The territories have over 4 million people living in them. The fact that the territories have such large populations is striking when we consider the fact they cannot vote in the general election, and get only one representative each, who can speak but not vote on their constituents behalves.
In a country that values its right to vote and its freedom of expression, these laws silence, or take away millions of opinions. We’re only giving these citizens little say in a decision that has such a large impact on them. By not allowing those citizens to vote in the general election, we’re essentially treating them as second-class citizens.
To legitimately afford territories the eligibility to vote, the Constitution would need to be changed. But amending the Constitution for one political issue is a gateway to open discussions on other popular issues, such as gun control.
As a country, we stress the laws in the Constitution, because it determines nationwide law that can’t be changed by particular individual states. Though some say it’s a living, breathing document, we’re hesitant to change it in any way. But it has changed before. When women took a stand against laws declaring that only men could vote, they fought and managed to amend the Constitution.
Despite the fact some of the laws may not progress with the times and are constantly debated today, we’re reluctant to change it because it’s what has always been established and has created the stability of our government. The Constitution established precedent for so many laws and rights guaranteed to people that if we start to contest one right we will open the floodgates to dissect every statement in the Constitution. Maybe that’s what’s necessary to amend certain laws, but it could come with negative effects in the state of our society.
Should an amendment be created to allow territories to vote in the general election, some would argue potential damage to our 50 states. The expansive size of the territories is a threat to the influence states currently have in the election. Though there are valid arguments for allowing the territories to vote in the general election, just the sheer complexity of changing the Constitution to allow for that is enough of a deterrent for some people.
Why did it take so long to grant voting rights to women or abolish slavery in our country?
It’s difficult to create change, but it hasn’t stopped us before.
We’re a progressive society. We don’t need to stay rooted in 1789.