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Researching the plight of disenfranchised Americans

Michael Kelly Summer ResearchThe anomalous situation of people living in U.S. territories, who are Americans but who cannot vote for president, is the subject of a summer research project undertaken by Michael Kelly, JD, LLM, professor and holder of the Senator Allen A. Sekt Endowed Chair in Law at the Creighton University School of Law.

“Even though American islanders in the territories are disenfranchised, and even though their congressional delegates cannot vote on legislation, they are Americans and their voices should at least be heard,” Kelly says. “The people of our territories are incredibly loyal Americans, with higher military enlistment rates than almost any state and consistently voting in referendums to remain with the United States.”

Territorial status is conferred upon Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. Although each of these sends a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives where they serve and vote on House committees, they do not vote on final legislation. Kelly says the testimony of Rep. Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, during the January 2021 impeachment of President Donald Trump made the point.

“She was defending a presidential election in which her constituents couldn’t even vote,” Kelly says. “Rep. Plaskett was defending an American democracy not fully open to her. The irony of that moment should be lost on no one.”

Kelly said he is researching the possibility of elevating territorial representation to permanent select committee status in the House, similar to the Senate’s creation of a permanent Select Committee on Indian Affairs in 1977.

“The House has internal and external precedent for making this institutional adjustment, which only requires a revision by the majority party of the House rules — no legal adjustments are required,” Kelly says.

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