The stakes are high in the US presidential election, and Hispanic voters are expected to be the largest racial or ethnic group in the 2020 electorate.
A record 32 million Latinos are projected to be eligible to vote in November. Of those, 3.1 million live in Florida, a key battleground state that has seen a 31% increase in Puerto Rican eligible voters since 2016. Today, more people of Puerto Rican descent live in the U.S. than on the island.
Here’s why the Floricua vote in the U.S. presidential election matters to those still living Puerto Rico.
- They’re voting for the millions who can’t. The nearly 3.2 million U.S. citizens who live in Puerto Rico don’t have the right to vote in the presidential elections unless they move to the mainland. For those who can’t, Boricuas in the diaspora are casting their ballot with their home country, and family residing there, in mind. Research shows Latinos pay close attention to political events that affect their place of origin and the U.S. response significantly influences their electoral preferences.
- They’re voting to have a say in the governing power’s laws. Under the U.S. Constitution, the island is subject to the U.S. Congress’ plenary powers so U.S. federal law very much applies to Puerto Rico and, in the majority of cases, supersedes local law, even though Puerto Rico is not a state and their residents have no voting representation in the U.S. Congress. One of the laws that impacts the island the most, causing Puerto Rico to lose $537 million a year, is the Jones Act. Puerto Ricans have no say in overturning it.
- They’re voting to advocate for an island struck by natural disasters. Puerto Rico has been hit by several natural disasters since 2017 when both Hurricane Irma and María devastated the island, killing more than 4,000 people, followed by earthquakes that primarily affected the southern region and worsened the pre-existing infrastructure problems. Many communities are still waiting for money promised after Hurricane María, such as in Ponce, where the municipal government is hoping for funds for hundreds of sites in need of reconstruction, while people are still living under FEMA blue tarps or are homeless.
- They’re voting for the island’s economic progress. Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, bankruptcy and political instability inform the decision of many to move abroad. Between 2004 and 2018, the island’s economic growth fell by nearly 10%, while its population declined by more than 16%. Today, the island’s average household income is about one-third of the nationwide average, and its unemployment rate remains more than twice the national average. (No substantial research has been done since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.)
- They’re voting to determine the island’s future. The federal government controls many aspects of life in Puerto Rico, like its commerce, trade, immigration, military, mail, highways, natural resources, Social Security, federal tax, and even maritime law. Even though the island decides its governor and town mayors—what is seen as some measure of self-rule by the U.S. Congress—it lacks sovereignty. More than a century after being acquired by the U.S. from Spain, Puerto Rico continues to struggle with its status as a U.S. territory and some consider it “the oldest colony in the world,” as it is declared an unincorporated territory of the U.S. with no clear path to statehood or sovereignty.