These US Citizens Don’t Have Equal Representation

Overthe last two years, there’s been an explosion of activism across the United States in response to the political climate; your social media interactions and conversations are likely filled with exhortations to vote and call your representatives. But what if you were a voting U.S. citizen who didn’t have any representatives to call?

That’s the situation faced by people in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Residents of these areas are citizens with voting rights, but they have no representation at the federal level — or they have a “delegate” who is allowed to participate in debate in the House, but can’t actually vote on proposed legislation, political appointments and other matters. In addition,these individuals can’t vote in presidential elections — so when residents of these areas say “not my president,” they mean it literally.

This is a situation that manypeople view as highly unjust. D.C.’s license plates even complain of “taxation without representation,” but there’s some debate over how to address it.

Camp Statehood

Some of these affected regions, including D.C.and Puerto Rico, say they want statehood. As states, they would have full voting representation in the House and Senate.

In 2016, D.C.voted to become a state, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple: Congress has to approve the change — and it won’t.

Statehood proponents note that some Republicans are opposed to their efforts, arguing that these regions would tip the scale in the direction of the Democrats. Bizarrely, D.C.’s disenfranchised status is even enshrined in the Constitution, and for D.C., statehood doesn’t just come with federal representation. It would also give residents more control over their local affairs, with Congress deciding matters like their budget.

For Puerto Rico, the conversation about statehood became especially pressing after Hurricane Maria; some felt the federal government’s lackluster response to Puerto Rico’s urgent situation reflected the commonwealth’s second-class status. Like D.C., Puerto Rico has filed legislation that would grant it statehood, but it hasn’t gone anywhere.

Camp Independence

On the other hand, some of these disenfranchised areas are pushing for independence. The far-flung assortment of unincorporated areas, commonwealths and protectorates of the United States is a reflection of colonialism — and these regions argue it’s time for them to be on their own. Puerto Rico has a small independence movement, for example, though in a 2017 referendum, citizens voted overwhelmingly for statehood.

In Guam, an important holding for the military, residents are also calling for independence. Meanwhile,in American Samoa — which has a unique legal position–debate continues over whether this area should be part of the United States at all. Similar conversations about independence have arisen in the U.S. Virgin Islands. And another option has also been floated for places like Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands: reunification, bringing regions with shared cultural traditions fractured by colonialism back together.

It’s not just regions like these that are interested in independence. Hawaii has an independence movement, with some residents wishing to leave the United States altogether and arguing that the island was annexed illegally — or, at the very least, questionably– by the United States.

If you think this situation sounds unfair, you’re in good company, and you may be in a position to do something about it.

All of these regions are dependent on the consent of Congress to move forward with whatever path they take — whether it’s statehood, independence, or reunification. But without voting representation in Congress, they’re at an impasse: Their delegates can argue their case but not actually participate in decision-making.

That’s why advocacy from citizens who have more power can be helpful: If people whohave representation on the federal level say they support the case for statehood and/or independence and want to see their elected officials advancing these proposals, their solidarity can be vital.

Residents of these areas may also feel frustrated by their lack of options when it comes to advocating about issues they care about on the federal level. Contacting their delegates in the House to make their opinions known is an option, but they have no say in the Senate’s doings at all.

Some advocacy groups are coming up with creative ways to address this problem: Herd on the Hill, for example, dispatches D.C. residents to Capitol Hill to hand-deliver messages to elected officials from constituents across the United States who feel their representatives and senators aren’t responding to their calls, emails, faxes and snail mail. These D.C. activists would rather have their own voice on the Hill, but in the short term, they’re helping to amplify the voices of others.

Photo credit: Ted Eytan/Creative Commons


hELEN h2 months ago


Anne M
Anne Moran2 months ago

Well,, that's not fair !! - But then what is ??

Alea C
Alea C2 months ago

DC has no representation in the Senate, and it only gets the same electoral votes as the least populous state. I'd be furious if I lived there.

Jetana A
Jetana A2 months ago

According to wikipedia, Paul B is incorrect about DC being represented by Maryland. I think it should be.

john c
john c2 months ago

Irrelevant of political parties, if they are considered U S citizens and can VOTE, then they MUST BE GIVEN REPRESENTATION or SET FREE.
John C./Houston, Tx.

Chrissie R
Chrissie R2 months ago

Thanks for posting.

Loredana V
Loredana V2 months ago

"united" should mean that all citizens have equal rights

Paul B
Paul B2 months ago

Stupid... DC is NOT a state, nor should it be. It is clearly represented in DC by Maryland. Enough said. Puerto Rico could fight for statehood, but I doubt they would get it.

Wesley Struebing
Wesley Struebing2 months ago

Puerto Rico should make its own choice (the referendum mentioned had only about 23% of leigible voters casting a ballot, but 97% is still huge!), and the Senate should honor it decision (hint; it won't). American Samoa and the Marianas should be granted their independence (imho), and I don't know WHAT to do about DC. I can see having the Capitol of the USA residing in NO state, but the city (Washington, DC) which has grown up around it is problematic.

RK R2 months ago

Better yet is to turn DC into a National Park and Zoo then repatriating the area back to Maryland and Virginia.