New suit seeks to expand voting rights in US territories

Posted on Oct 12 2020


Ahead of one of the most important elections in recent history, six U.S. citizens living in Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have filed a federal lawsuit challenging federal and state laws that deny them the right to vote for President and voting representation in Congress while protecting full enjoyment of the right to vote for citizens living in other U.S. territories and in foreign countries. They are joined in the lawsuit by the civil rights group Equally American, which advocates for equality and voting rights for the nearly 4 million Americans living in U.S. territories.

“As a civilian contractor living in Germany at the end of the Cold War, I was able to vote for President by absentee ballot. But when the Federal Aviation Administration assigned me to Guam, I was no longer able to vote for President, even as colleagues who were assigned to the Northern Mariana Islands continue to be afforded the right to vote for President by absentee ballot,” said Randy Reeves, the lead plaintiff in Reeves v. United States. “Picking and choosing which citizens can vote for President based solely on where they happen to live is not just wrong, I believe it is unconstitutional.” 

Absentee ballots have become one of the hot-button issues of the 2020 election. However, citizens who move to certain U.S. territories are treated unequally when it comes to being able to vote for President by absentee ballot. Under the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act and state overseas voting laws, former state residents who are now residents of the Northern Mariana Islands or a foreign country are able to continue voting for President and voting representation in Congress by absentee ballot in their former state of residence.  But plaintiffs—each former residents of Hawaii—have lost full enjoyment of their right to vote by virtue of living in Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“In a roller coaster year where the President and Congress are making life-and-death decisions related to COVID-19 and other critical issues, it is unjust and absurd that U.S. citizens in the territories have no voice in these fundamental issues simply because of where they live,” said Neil Weare, president and founder of Equally American.  “Where you live shouldn’t cost you the right to vote.”

The four plaintiffs who are residents of Guam include Randy Reeves, Ben Borja, Dr. Fred Schroeder, and Patti Arroyo.  Reeves is an Air Force veteran, who lost his right to vote for President after the FAA assigned him to Guam, where he has now lived for more than 20 years. Borja served for 28 years in the U.S. Navy, volunteering to serve in 1969 after it was clear he would be drafted. Schroeder has practiced family medicine in Guam for decades, seeing first-hand how a lack of voting rights has contributed to disparities in federal health care programs that have denied island residents of much-needed care. Arroyo is a popular talk show host whose program regularly discusses federal policy issues impacted by the denial of voting rights.

“I served 28 years in the U.S. Navy, leaving my family for months at a time to defend democracy and the Constitution,” said Borja. “I’ve earned the right to vote, and I want to be able to see my children and grandchildren treated the same as any other U.S. citizen. Every citizen deserves the right to vote, wherever they happen to live.”

Plaintiffs in the U.S. Virgin Islands include Ravi Nagi and Laura Castillo Nagi, two attorneys who have raised their children in St. Thomas after moving there from Hawaii 15 years ago.

Plaintiffs in the case are represented by attorneys TJ Quan, who grew up in Guam and now practices law in Hawaii; Vanessa Williams, an attorney in Guam; Pamela Colon, an attorney in the U.S. Virgin Islands who was a plaintiff in a similar lawsuit, Segovia v. United States; and a team of pro bono attorneys based in Washington, D.C. (PR)

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