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Virgin Islands 2007 Constitutional Convention may force Congress to confront lack of presidential vote & representation

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The natives are getting restless.  One of America's colonial islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, is holding an election on June 12th to elect delegates to the territory's fifth Constitutional Convention.  Thus far, none of the other four conventions resulted in a ratified document.


At a time when Congress is grappling with giving the residents of Washington, D.C. a representative in Congress, the residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands may well also ask for a voting seat in the legislative chamber.


The Virgin Islands are one of 17 "Non Self Governing Territories" that are the subject of Article 73 of the United Nations Charter.  Article 73 binds the United States "to take due account the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions."


In 1965, the first Constitutional Convention of the island territory sent to Congress a document calling for voting rights in Presidential elections and membership in the House of Representatives.  Congress took no action.


Another attempt to adopt a constitution was made in 1972 without Congressional authorization.  The second Constitutional Convention was not popular with the public and no draft constitution was submitted to Congress.


In 1976, Congress authorized a convention but retained final approval.  The authorization to convene contained language to limit the scope of the convention.  A third Constitutional Convention was held in 1978 but rejected by island voters in 1979. 


A fourth Constitutional Convention was held in 1980 and was also rejected by voters the following year.


The Virgin Islands legislature has authorized another convention, making use of the 1976 Congressional provision, and wants to have a charter ready for voters before the 2008 general election.  Emboldened by the debate over a voting member of Congress for the District of Columbia, delegates can be expected to seek a vote.


The 1965 draft, ignored by Congress, included a right to a Presidential vote.  As there is presently a similar request pending before the Third U.S. Court of Appeals, Ballentine v. United States, delegates are also likely to seek a way for island voters to participate in the top national election.  A bid in Puerto Rico for the Presidential vote was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 and has now landed the United States in international court.


Although the news media ignores the plight of territorial voters, the second-class status of millions of U.S. citizens, denied the national vote, continues to stir passions in the out-flung American empire.


The residents of the Virgin Islands are not without support in their effort to vote in national elections.  The Allard Lowenstein International Human Rights Law Clinic of the prestigious Schell Center at Yale University weighed in on the subject in 2001 with an amicus brief in the pending Third Circuit case when it was before the lower court.


"Someday, our nation will look back on its treatment of the Virgin Islands and other non-self governing territories with the shame with which we now look at slavery and segregation.  When the United States purchased the Virgin Islands, colonialism was expected of world powers, racist ideology was accepted as scientific truth, and racial apartheid was common."


 "The present governmental structure of the Virgin Islands was established by the U.S. Congress, without the consent or meaningful participation of the residents of the Virgin Islands.  At no point have the people of the Virgin Islands been able independently and effectively to exercise their right of self-determination."
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Michael Richardson is a freelance writer living in Belize. Richardson writes about Taiwan foreign policy, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Black Panther Party. Richardson was Ralph Nader's ballot access manager during the 2004 and (more...)

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