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presidential election in Puerto Rico

Can You Vote In US Presidential Election If You Moved to PR?


This has been a much debated topic among our friends over the last few week: Can an American citizen that has moved to Puerto Rico vote in the presidential election?

We have friends that use the FVAP and vote for POTUS using an absentee ballet and also vote here in PR locally.

Is this legal?

I decided to do some digging and looked and read many official documents and statements. It is true that the issue is very confusing because Puerto Ricans, although US citizens, do not have voting rights in the US (unless they reside in USA). So, everyone is confused about how this applies to people, like us, that made the move in the opposite direction.

So, officially to answer to the question:

Can I vote in US Presidential Election if I moved to Puerto Rico?

The answer is NO, unless you are:

  1. an active duty member of the Uniformed Services or Merchant Marine;
  2. an eligible spouse or family member of an active duty member of the Uniformed Services or Merchant Marine; or
  3. a U.S. citizen residing outside the U.S.

AND

  • a U.S. citizen.
  • at least 18 years old.
  • be absent from your voting residence.

Source: FVAP.gov

So, really the question here is: Do individuals that moved to Puerto Rico and declared residency (by registering to vote in Puerto Rico, getting a driver’s license, or purchasing property here and certifying that Puerto Rico is their primary residence) qualify under “a U.S. citizen residing outside the U.S.“.

It took some reading but I found the official answer. It is still NO. According to Howard Hills, former lead counsel representing the White House during Congressional ratification of territorial political status policies and agreements, former General Counsel of a U.S. State Department development agency, the reason is because:

The federal overseas voting law includes Puerto Rico in the U.S. and does not treat territories as outside the U.S. because territories are under U.S. sovereignty.


So, the only way to vote while officially residing in Puerto Rico is under the first 2 conditions of:

  1. an active duty member of the Uniformed Services or Merchant Marine;
  2. an eligible spouse or family member of an active duty member of the Uniformed Services or Merchant Marine;
  3. Does not apply in Puerto Rico.

The third condition only applies to US citizens living outside of US and US territories. Hence, if you’re currently living in Spain, you can vote for the US president using an absentee ballot.

This is probably a shock to some folks that have been voting long distance from Puerto Rico for many years. In fact, we know many folks that do this.

However, it is illegal. It is a felony.

Sad but true. Yes, I know that there are lots of helpful websites that will allow you to cast an absentee ballot. However, they are geared for citizens that meet one of the above three conditions (in green). Unfortunately, they do not really oversee the process. They only do a cursory set of questions to see if you qualify, not fully considering the territories in their systems. So, I’d advise caution. Just because something is on the internet, doesn’t make it legal. People can and, in fact, do get prosecuted for voter fraud. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that the fact that Puerto Rico citizens don’t have the same voting rights as the citizens of the States, is mind-boggling and a true injustice to the people of Puerto Rico. And the fact that people like us, Americans that chose to make Puerto Rico their home, are excluded from the presidential elections is just a pile of poo, but that is the current state of affairs. I don’t like it, but it is what it is. If you want to know more about this topic, here is a great article from PR51st, Puerto Rican Expats’ Legal Rights, it’s worth a read.

So, if you’re a resident of Puerto Rico, and are not in the military, you are not legally allowed to vote for the presidential election this year. If you chose to do so anyway (because frankly no one will stop you), that’s really up to you and your conscience. I for one, am going to abstain from voting. I wouldn’t want to feel responsible for putting either one of the nominee clowns in charge anyway. [sorry, I couldn’t’ resist].

Joanna-

About Joanna

is a Polish American living in Arizona with her husband Tim. She is a founding partner of JTR Tech and she is proud to be a professional geek. She had dreamt of living abroad for many years. So, she and Tim created AbroadDreams.com to document the process of making their dream of moving abroad come true. They spent 2 years in Puerto Rico and several months in Spain and Poland. Now they are exploring the American Southwest.

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4 comments

  1. Yes. I called a second time to talk to someone else expressing my concerns. She was very nice and said she would talk to her boss and get back to me. They did get back to me and said yes. They sent me a ballot.

    So maybe they were wrong but someone would need to bring it to court and I don’t know if that has ever happened.

  2. The right to vote for president is given to the states, not to the people. The United States Electoral College is the institution that actually elects the president, not the people. Since PR is not a state, it does not have any electoral votes.

    The entire thing is a scam.

  3. Three people from my previous states election board told me yes and even sent me the forms to do it. I’m no expert but the election board took time to review the situation and said yes. It probably needs to go to court and probably never has or ever will.

    • Hi Jeff,
      They told you yes, you can vote? That’s interesting because I read an opinion of one of the judges and they basically said, the only way you can vote if you are a resident of PR is if you are in the military and stationed overseas. When you return to the island, you can no longer vote.
      I guess everyone has an opinion. I’m airing on the side of caution.
      Joanna-