POLITICS

Military Veterans Living In U.S. Territories Sue For Right To Vote

They can die for the U.S., but they can't vote for their commander-in-chief.

A group of military veterans residing in U.S. island territories have filed a federal lawsuit seeking the right to vote.

Veterans, including those living in Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, filed the lawsuit earlier this month in the Northern District Court of Illinois, contending that laws preventing them from voting in federal elections violates the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection. The plaintiffs are former Illinois residents.

People who live in U.S. island territories don't have the right to vote in elections for president and Congress, even though those same residents serve in the military at high rates. 

So long as you are a U.S. citizen, where you live shouldn’t have anything to do with whether your fundamental right to vote is protected,” veteran Anthony Bunten, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told the Pacific Daily News.

Portraits of fallen Micronesian soldiers hang at the airport on Pohnpei. Both U.S. island territories as well as U.S.-affilia
Portraits of fallen Micronesian soldiers hang at the airport on Pohnpei. Both U.S. island territories as well as U.S.-affiliated Micronesian island nations have high per capita rates of deaths in the military.

For more than a decade, islanders from U.S. territories as well as U.S.-affiliated Micronesian island nations have been joining the military at high rates and suffer a significantly higher percentage of casualties than any U.S. state. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are overrepresented in the U.S. Army by 249 percent, compared with 43 percent of blacks, 44 percent of whites and 53 percent of American Indians/Alaskan Natives, according to a White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders fact sheet.

Comedian John Oliver took on the voting rights issue in his March 8 episode of "Last Week Tonight" on HBO, saying, "More than 4 million people live in U.S. territories, more than 98 percent of them are racial or ethnic minorities, and the more you look into the history of why their voting rights are restricted, the harder it is to justify."

Denying voting rights to residents of America's island territories stems from a series of Supreme Court decisions in the early 20th century. The decisions, as Oliver pointed out, found the territories were inhabited by "alien races" who may not understand Anglo-Saxon laws.

"There are a lot of complicated issues surrounding what the precise status of all the U.S. territories should be and what the people who live there would prefer, but surely, when it comes to denying Americans the right to vote, we have to find a better reason than citing a 100-year-old legal decision written by a racist that was always supposed to be temporary," Oliver said.

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