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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Pro-statehood lawyer questions legality of bill allowing foreigners to vote

Pro-statehood attorney Gregorio Igartúa

By The Star Staff

Pro-statehood lawyer Gregorio Igartúa is urging Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to veto the proposed bill that would allow foreign nationals to vote in local elections, arguing it has constitutional problems.

House Speaker Rafael Hernández Montañez and other lawmakers filed House Bill 1891 in October allowing foreigners to vote. The measure is now before the Senate, which also has its own version of the bill.

Sens. Ana Irma Rivera Lassén and Rafael Bernabe Riefkohl of the Citizen Victory Movement (MVC by its Spanish initials) had filed Senate Bill 1340, which also would allow foreigners residing in Puerto Rico the right to vote in elections.

“Currently, foreigners residing in Puerto Rico cannot vote in elections because they do not have U.S. citizenship. This goes against internationally recognized human rights, unjustifiably denies them the fundamental right to vote, and excludes them from choosing the government under which they live,” Rivera Lassén said at the time. “Immigrants who live in Puerto Rico work here, consume here, contribute significantly to our economy, enrich our culture, have families and are an important part of our society. With this bill, we seek to end this discriminatory and undemocratic exclusion and recognize the right to vote of every person who resides in Puerto Rico, regardless of their citizenship.”

Igartúa said the bill has problems. First, he noted, it was ironic for local politicians to advocate allowing foreigners to vote in local elections but not say anything about allowing Puerto Rico residents to vote for the U.S. president.

The bill is supported by the Dominican Committee of Human Rights, but Igartúa pointed out that foreign residents have loyalties that may be in conflict with those of the U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico and which may influence their vote.

Igartúa also raised questions as to the bill’s legality. The State Election Commission had asked the House of Representatives to evaluate the application of the current federal provision that establishes a ban on foreigners voting in the election of federal officials, including the resident commissioner.

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