Proposed Presidential Primary Bill Attempts to Bring Awareness to Puerto Rico’s Voting Rights

Jun 11, 2019
4:00 PM

Ricardo Rosselló in May, 2019 (Photo by La Fortaleza)

Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló presented a bill on Tuesday morning to the local House of Representatives that seeks to amend the Presidential Compulsory Primary Law, moving up the Democratic presidential primaries in Puerto Rico by almost two months.

The bill would shift the Democratic presidential primaries in Puerto Rico from the first Sunday in June to the last Sunday in March. Rosselló is hoping the change will bring more national campaign attention to Puerto Rico’s voting rights.

“By moving the date forward, Puerto Rico becomes a relevant state, and the candidates will be forced to pay attention to our needs,” the pro-statehood Democrat said.

“There are over three million American citizens in Puerto Rico who lack the right to vote for President. This reality is the result of an unjust and undemocratic relationship with the United States,” Rosselló said in a press release.

Thomas Rivera Schatz, Puerto Rico’s Senate president, also presented a bill that would both modernize the electoral system and change the way primaries are held in Puerto Rico. The Senate bill is expected to be reviewed in the following weeks.

In February, Politico reported that post-Hurricane María, Puerto Rico had become a political hotspot for 2020. Julián Castro made the island his first stop after announcing his candidacy. Elizabeth Warren then visited to talk about recovery efforts, while the Bernie Sanders appointed San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz as one of his campaign chairs.

Although Puerto Ricans on the island can’t vote in the national presidential elections, the island still has more delegates than states like Kentucky, Rhode Island or Vermont.

In the 2016 Democratic primaries, Puerto Rico had 67 delegates (44 for Hilary Clinton, 23 for Bernie Sanders) with 23 Republican delegates choosing Marco Rubio.

Pew Research data from 2013 estimated that 5.1 million people of Puerto Rican origin lived in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Puerto Rico’s current population, according to 2018 U.S. Census data, is about 3.2 million people.

The fact that Puerto Ricans on the island can vote in presidential primary elections but not federal elections surprises some. According to the Constitution, voting rights are reserved to states, leaving Puerto Rico and other territories unable to vote. Granting primary electoral rights came in 1979.

Although some of the current Democratic presidential candidates have shared their views on Puerto Rico and its current status, only Castro and Warren have visited during this election cycle. Sanders made a visit during the 2016 campaign.

Latino Rebels has reached out to the campaigns of Joe Biden, Pete Buttigeig, Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Sanders, Warren and Castro for comment about the Puerto Rico primary push. As of this posting, none of the campaigns have responded with a comment.

Recently, Puerto Rican political advocacy groups and their progressive allies called on presidential campaigns to provide more specific plans regarding Puerto Rico policy. Last month, Warren offered a plan about how to address the island’s debt crisis.

The Republican primary in Puerto Rico would still remain as the last Sunday in February.


Natalia Rodríguez Medina is the 2019 summer correspondent for Latino Rebels. She is a member the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY’s Class of 2019. Natalia tweets from @nataliarodmed