State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Category: U.S. Virgin Islands

Voting Rights and Ancestry in the Virgin Islands

By: Leo Jobsis Rossignol

Thanks to recent media developments, more people are becoming aware of the bizarre fact that, in U.S. territories, citizens cannot vote for the president. However, the vote on the federal level is not the end of the story. There are many further oddities to the voting system in the territories, and we’ll take a moment to explore one of them in this post.

The United States Virgin Islands is one of those territories, and the voting system in place has undergone many changes over time. Originally, those living in the islands had no right to vote or to self-government. Before 1954, the territory was governed by two “municipal” or “colonial” councils (see §5 annotations – prior legislative bodies), one for St. Thomas and St. John, and another for St. Croix (the three main islands), with some positions held by local community leaders. Once a year, or more often if called by the federally-appointed governor, both councils would meet and pass legislation. In the U.S. Virgin Islands Revised Organic Act, passed into law that year, all citizens above the age of twenty-one were granted the right to vote in local elections for both the newly-unicameral legislature and the governor. The law also contained a provision allowing the voting age to be dropped to 18 by popular referendum, which it soon was.

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Territorial Voting Rights: 7th Circuit Asked to Rule on Absentee Voting by U.S. Territory Residents

By: Stephen Fellows

In September 2017 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit heard oral arguments for Segovia v. United States.   The Plaintiffs, a group of Illinois citizens residing in Puerto Rico, Guam, or the U.S. Virgin Islands, want the right to vote by absentee ballot in federal elections in Illinois.  They initially brought the case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  The complaint stems from Illinois’ Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which implemented the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act (OCVRA) of 1975.  The federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) replaced the OCVRA in 1986. The UOCAVA guarantees the right to vote by absentee ballot in federal elections to Americans, both military and civilians, residing overseas.

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The Territorial American Exceptionalism to the Fundamental Right to Vote

By Ajinur Setiwaldi

Voting is one of the most fundamental rights of U.S. citizens. Congress explicitly states as much in the National Voter Registration Act. Chief Justice Warren invoked the principle when delivering the Reynolds v. Sims  opinion in 1964, stating, “undoubtedly, the right to suffrage is a fundamental matter in a free and democratic society.”

If you’re a U.S. citizen born and living in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Marina Islands, or Guam, your right to vote in federal and presidential elections is a lot less fundamental than that of citizens living on the mainland. If you’re willing to move to one of the 50 states, you can join the franchise. Even if you move to D.C., you will still have a larger say on who the next president will be than you would if you live in the territories thanks to the 23rd Amendment.

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