Washington - As part of an electoral reform bill, the U.S. House proposed yesterday to create a Congress Task Force to study the changes needed to extend voting rights to the territories - like Puerto Rico - in federal elections.
The bill proposes to create a 12-member bicameral committee (six Senators and six Representatives) to study the changes required for residents of the territories to vote for President and vice president of the United States, and to have representation in the House.
The language does not mention representation in the Senate, since one chamber cannot tell the other what to do, said a source in Congress. Although the Republican Senate leadership warned that the measure will not advance in the chamber, the evaluation would apply to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.
A similar amendment was proposed by Stacey Plaskett, delegate to the U.S. House for the Virgin Islands. Although it was later withdrawn, the final language was included by the leadership of the House Rules Committee.
The House bill would task the committee with studying "the economic and social consequences" of excluding U.S. citizens from the territories from the election of federal authorities and the impediments standing on the process.
According to the measure, the House leaders would have to appoint the members of the Task Force in consultation with the chairs and minority spokespersons of the Committees on Natural Resources, Judiciary, and Administration.
In the Senate, leaders would have to consult with the chairs of the Energy and Natural Resources, Legal, Rules and Administration committees.
The language on the participation of residents of the territories in the federal electoral process is included in the same legislation that endorsed statehood for Washington D.C.
Regarding Washington D.C., the House bill indicates that "District of Columbia residents deserve full congressional voting rights and self-government, which only statehood can provide,"and adds that
“There are no constitutional, historical, financial, or economic reasons why the 700,000 Americans who live in the District of Columbia should not be granted statehood," according to Washington D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
For Holmes Norton, the language on Washington D.C. in the electoral reform bill “sets the stage for consideration of HR 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, which already has 200 cosponsors,” this year.
A similar bill by Senator Tom Carper (Delaware) is co-sponsored by 29 of the 47 Democratic senators.
No Republican in Congress supports statehood for Washington D.C. – an overwhelmingly Democratic district- so the proposal for the federal capital to become the 51st state of the United States has no possibilities in the Senate.
On Thursday, in an interview in The Atlantic, Senate Democratic minority leader Charles Schumer (New York), said that statehood for Washington D.C. will be one of his priorities aimed at expanding voting rights in the United States.
However, he considered that Puerto Ricans have not clearly expressed that they want to become a state. "I’d do it for Puerto Rico too, but they’re not sure they want statehood. But D.C. has had a referendum, they want statehood, and we should have them be allowed to vote in federal elections—have congressmen, have senators, etc," Schumer said.
This way, Schumer seems to join the position of President Donald Trump´s government and that of the chairs of congressional committees with primary jurisdiction over the political future of Puerto Rico - Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Representative Raúl Grijalva (Arizona) - that the referendums held on the island have not reflected consensus.
In the most recent local plebiscite, held on June 11, 2017, statehood obtained 97 percent of the votes. The referendum was boycotted by opposition parties and had a voter turnout of only 23 percent.