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Puerto Ricans' lawsuit seeks right to vote for president

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CNN) -- As an American citizen, Jose Lausel served in the U.S. Air Force. But as a resident of Puerto Rico, Lausel may have to sit out the presidential election.


"Anyplace in the world, I'm an American and I can vote," Lausel said. "But not here."

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth, but have never been allowed to vote for president while living in the island territory. Lausel and several others are trying to change that, filing a lawsuit in federal court to get the names of Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Democratic Vice President Al Gore on the November 7 ballot.

A federal judge in San Juan ruled in Lausel's favor, and Puerto Rico began printing up the ballots. Lausel and 10 other plaintiffs from the town of Aquadilla began putting up their posters.

But later, an appellate court in Boston ruled only residents of states can vote. Now, Lausel and the others are preparing for a Supreme Court battle to seek the right of Puerto Rico's three million voters to have a voice in the presidential election.

"The Supreme Court has established very clearly that the right to vote flows to the people because of citizenship," plaintiff's lawyer Gregorio Igartua said. "So we are citizens of the United States, and we are being discriminated (against)."

But in Puerto Rico, political confrontation can be separated from the bitter feuds over the question of statehood. Those who support making Puerto Rico a U.S. state support presidential voting rights, but those who believe in independence or more autonomy say they don't want to vote for an American president.

"It's a ridiculous exercise, a laughable exercise," Puerto Rican political analyst Juan Maneul Garcia Passalaqua said. "But it's another measure of the frustration of Puerto Ricans that are not permitted to participate in the government that runs this country. That is what colonialism is all about."

Pro-statehood Gov. Pedro Rosello has been called "Don Quixote" for railing at political windmills, but he insists this is an issue of basic civil rights.

"We don't vote for who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States, and yet Puerto Ricans are ordered into battle by that commander-in-chief, Rosello said. "We have no say in the decisions the president and vice president have over Puerto Rico."

Rosello's administration plans to press the case all the way to the Supreme Court, insisting that American citizens should have the right to vote for an American president no matter where they live.



Tuesday, October 24, 2000


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