'Hey, how about that? We can vote for president now.'
Former Guam residents delighted to participate in Nov. 3 US elections
A sure sign of living in a colony is feeling like a second-class citizen. American citizens who live on Guam and other territories can't vote for the U.S. president.
When a Guamanian moves to the U.S. mainland, they "acquire" the right to participate in national elections.
When Americans from the mainland move to Guam, these "inalienable" rights vanish.
On Nov. 3, American voters will cast their ballots to pick between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Former Guam residents, who used to be uninvolved observers detached from the process, are headed to the polls as well.
"My husband Richard said to me, 'Hey, how about that? We can vote for president now,'" said Ginger Underwood, a former resident of Mangilao, now residing in Las Vegas, Nevada.
"But my thoughts went back to my island home to those born there on American soil of how unfair that they-as American Citizens still could not vote for president. As my ballot was being processed, I prayed one day that this would change for our people," Underwood said.
Like the citizens of other U.S. territories, Guam voters are ineligible to elect members of the electoral college, which would then in turn cast direct electoral votes for president and for vice president.
Guam holds a straw poll on the day of the presidential general election to gauge the preference for president every election year. But this is an nonbinding process, which is only regarded as an indicator of how the rest of the country will vote.
"We talk a lot about politics and the deep divisions in our country at work. We are so used to not voting for the U.S. president that we forgot about the new rights we now have," said J. Nunag, a former resident of Saipan, who now lives in Las Vegas.
Arthur Torregrosa is originally from Toto and has since moved to New York State. "I've voted in the U.S. elections for 41 yrs. I feel that every U.S. citizen should be able to vote in a national election," he said.
A lawsuit lodged in federal court last week seeks to extend the right to participate in the U.S. presidential election to U.S. territories. The lawsuit was filed by six residents of Guam and U.S. Virgin Island.
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Under the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act and state overseas voting laws, former state residents who are now residents of the Northern Mariana Islands or a foreign country are able to continue voting for president and voting representation in Congress by absentee ballot in their former state of residence. But plaintiffs – each former residents of Hawaii – have lost full enjoyment of their right to vote by virtue of living in Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Fred Flores, a resident of Inarajan, served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I voted for president twice in the mainland. I find it very difficult that I've lost my right to vote for the United States president," Flores said. "As soon as I moved back to Guam, my right to choose a president was gone. It's hard. I fought and earned the right to vote."
The same is true for some active-duty personnel who get posted to serve on Guam.
"We can keep residency from the state where we lived. We kept residency in California because we owned a home there, which we sold in June of 2019. So now, I am not able to vote since I am a resident of Guam. We became residents of Guam, so no voting for president for us." said Layla Lara, a California native whose husband got posted to Guam in 2018.
"When I lived on Guam, not being able to vote for president troubled me emotionally for a variety of reasons. As a "so called" American Citizen but not good enough to vote for president. In other words, I felt like a three-year-old and a second or even a third-class citizen. Guamanians love America, but deprive us of this fundamental right," said Laura Lee Henderson from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Henderson, who lived on Guam for 20 years, said still considers herself Guamanian. "After getting out of the Air Force, I worked as a reporter, then in the Guam Legislature, and finally in the governor's office as an assistant PR manager," she added.
"More Guamanians join the military per capita than any other State. Americans would feel different if they lived on Guam and didn't have a right to vote for president," Henderson said.
Guam has one of the highest concentrations of military veterans among U.S. jurisdictions. One in eight adults on the Pacific island have served in the armed forces.
According to the 2010 census, there were 14,047 veterans living in U.S. territories, namely American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2010. They represented 5.6 percent of the civilian population. Guam reported the largest number of veterans at 8,041. At 7.9 percent, Guam also had the highest proportion of veterans in its civilian population.
"Voting is a sacred honor. We have to elevate the conversation. We, along with four million Americans, need to understand where we fit in the narrative. I paused and reflected the moment I voted in 2016 when I voted for the first time," said a former MTM resident who moved to the east coast.
"I understood the significance of being able to cast my vote feeling that my parents, my ancestors, and my island community could not exercise their right to vote. I felt them beside me as I cast my ballot. It felt like hallowed ground." (With additional reports from Mar-Vic Cagurangan)