Primary tabs

Voting Rights in U.S. Territories

Over the history of the  United States, it has acquired territories. It may come as a surprise that the residents of these territories are not afforded the same rights as all U.S. citizens, even though they pay much of the same taxes and many choose to serve in the U.S. armed services.

History of Territorial Rights

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, a few years after the United States acquired these territories, the Supreme Court ruled that residents of the territories would not have the rights and protections of the U.S. Constitution, including the right to vote in federal elections.

The same Supreme Court who led the Plessy v. Ferguson, or “separate but equal” ruling, also wrote the Insular Cases of 1901. These decisions were filled with racist language, referring to natives of the territories as “alien races” and endorsing “the white man’s burden to bring up others in their image.” Yet even though more than 100 years have passed, these obsolete rulings still haven’t been repealed.

The exact legal statuses of United States Territories can be very confusing, but the different classifications impact the rights of people who live in a particualr territory. Watch this explanation of the complex American system of territories below:

American Empire (CGP Grey)

American Empire

American Empire; Source: CGP Grey