If Americans in U.S. territories are good enough to serve in times of war, they deserve the right to vote for their Commander-in-Chief.
On Tuesday, President Obama will award the Medal of Honor (posthumously) to four soldiers from Puerto Rico and others who exhibited extraordinary bravery and personal sacrifice during the Korean and Vietnam wars. A military review concluded they were deserving of this highest honor after having been originally passed over because of discrimination.
This is progress. But a lingering shadow of discrimination continues to impact more than 4 million Americans in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories who are denied full enjoyment of the right to vote because of where they live. Ninety-eight percent are racial and ethnic minorities. The proud tradition of military service in each of the territories serves to highlight the injustice of this second-class status.
Master Sgt. Juan E. Negrón was the only one of the four Medal of Honor awardees from Puerto Rico to survive his battle-time wounds. When he returned home following 23 years of military service, he encountered a harsh reality. When it came to participating in American democracy at home, his heroic service in defense of freedom and democracy abroad meant nothing.
Negrón died in 1996, but his experience being denied the right to vote is not unique. More than 125,000 veterans today are unable to vote for president and are denied voting representation in Congress because they live in a U.S. territory. And U.S. citizens who call these areas home must register for the draft just like other Americans.
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