PUERTO RICO AND THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
By Angelo Falcón
Hispanic Link News Service (March 2, 2008)
The increasing interest in the role of the Latino vote in the Democratic primaries for United States president has opened up an important opportunity to educate the U.S. public about the Latino community. We have, hopefully, dispelled the myth that Latinos will not vote for a black for president. We have, in the process, also demonstrated that the Latino vote should not be taken for granted by the Democratic Party establishment, as the Clinton campaign now apparently views Latinos as her last best hope to revive her flailing campaign.
When talking about the Latino vote, reference is made to the fact that the Latino population in the United States now stands at 44 million. This figure is incorrect. There are actually 48 million Latinos in this country, if you include the four million living in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and others.
These are all U.S. citizens, mostly Puerto Ricans, with a significant number of Dominicans.
One could argue that they should not be included in the Latino population count when discussing the presidential election because, although U.S. citizens, these four million do not have the right to vote for president. But they can and do vote in the nominations process of the two major parties, so they are relevant to a discussion of the role of the Latino vote in selecting the next president of the United States.
Take the case of Puerto Rico:
Island Puerto Ricans will be holding their caucus and convention on June 7, making it the very last race for the nomination before the party conventions this summer. In the Democratic Party, Puerto Rico has a delegation of 63, which is larger than that of 24 states. If the party upholds its sanctions against Florida and Michigan for violating party rules in the scheduling of their primaries, Puerto Rico’s convention delegation will be larger than that of 26 states.
In the past, Puerto Rico’s was a winner-take-all system, but party rules have changed so that it is now supposed to be proportional. While the smart money had been that Clinton could count on all of these delegates, recent events are reflecting the Obama tsunami. The presumed solidity of the Puerto Rican delegation in this regard is crumbling.
Most recently, Puerto Rico Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá has endorsed Barack Obama, and it appears that Obama has raised more contributions than Clinton in Puerto Rico. The notion, advanced by Michael Barone and other analysts, that Puerto Rico would deliver all of its delegates to one candidate and could be decisive, inasmuch as it would be the last contest in a long nominations battle, is not panning out.
Despite this, the very idea that a territory (or, as I like to call it, colony) like Puerto Rico even has the possibility of determining who would be the candidate for president of a major U.S. political party is deliciously ironic, given that its residents, all U.S. citizens, do not have the right to vote for U.S. president or voting members of Congress.
In this inequity, they are joined by another million U.S. citizens in the territories of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and other smaller islands, as well as the District of Columbia. (Some will note that it is perhaps no coincidence that these are areas populated overwhelmingly by people of color.)
So in this very exciting presidential election, it is important that we also understand there are over 5 million U.S. citizens in the territories (colonies) and the District of Columbia who continue to be disenfranchised. The so-called “Latino vote” is diluted by this inequality, as is its potential impact. Of course, none of the presidential candidates are raising this issue.
Angelo Falcón is founder and president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, based in New York City. A political scientist, he teaches at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. He is the author of the Atlas of Stateside Puerto Ricans and co-author of the book, Boricuas in Gotham: Puerto Ricans in the Making of Modern New York City. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.