Primary Q&A: U.S. Territories

Q: Why do islands play key role in GOP race?

Byron York asks this question in The Washington Examiner.

in recent contests, it has been Romney’s wins in the island territories — Marianas, Guam, Samoa, Virgin Islands — that gave Romney the edge in delegates. And on Sunday comes the primary in Puerto Rico. It’s possible that if Romney finally reaches the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination, his delegate margin of victory will have come from the islands.

Which leads to the question: Why are places that are not states, whose residents cannot vote for president, and which have no electoral votes allowed to play a potentially critical role in selecting the party’s nominee?

“I have no idea at all,” says a former Republican National Committee official.

“I don’t know,” says a current RNC official.

Q: Has Ron Paul won any contests so far?

Yes. The U.S. Virgin Islands are one of the five U.S. Territories that hold caucuses. They voted last Saturday, and as we reported Mitt Romney “received 101 votes (25%) while Ron Paul received 112 votes (29%) and 130 caucus goers (34%) selected ‘uncommitted’ delegates”, so technically “uncommitted” won, but among the actual candidates Ron Paul won.

(Note: The VI GOP party has since pulled down the popular vote numbers from… but you can still see the numbers in the Internet archive.

Q: Why is the vote count so low.

The population of some territories is quite low. Puerto Rice is the largest (3.7 million) but is yet to vote. Guam has a population of 159,358, The U.S. Virgin Islands have a population of 106,405, American Samoa has a population of 55,519 and the Northern Mariana Islands as a population of 53,883.

In many territories local elections are non-partisan and concern issues divorced from the usual Republican-Democratic divide, so few residents bother to register as Republicans or Democrats.

Finally, the caucus format is more demanding on voters than a primary since they have to travel (perhaps to a neighboring island) and attend a meeting at a specific time.

According the Associated Press:

About 70 Republicans in the U.S. territory located 2,300 miles south of Hawaii met in caucus Tuesday [March 13, 2012]. The six delegates selected at the meeting and three superdelegates to the Republican National Convention all said they would support Romney

This means that 8 Samoans are being represented by each of their delegates at the RNC whereas there are 3,046,921 registered Republicans in Pennsylvania and they will be represented by 72 delegates, or 42,318 Pennsylvanians per delegate.

Q: I thought only states were allowed to vote?

Only States have voting representation in Congress, and only States and District of Columbia participate in the Presidential Election via the Electoral College. (DC has been included since the 23rd amendment was passed in 1961.) Thus, U.S. territories such as the Puerto Rice and the Virgin Islands do not participate in the General Election. However, political parties set the rules for their nominating process and the Democratic and Republican parties have elected to hold caucuses there.

Q: What makes an American living in France more American than an American living in Puerto Rico or another US Territory?

Americans living overseas continue to vote at their previous residence in the United States. For example, I taught at the Université de Bordeaux (France) from 1990 to 1996 and was able to vote in Congressional and Presidential elections during that time. However, if I had instead taught at the Universidad de Puerto Rico, I would not have been able to elect for a Representative, Senator or President. (I could only vote for local officials, a non-voting commissioner or delegate in Congress, and participate in the party caucus.)  


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