Congressional candidate Robert Underwood has called for “real representation” for Guam and the other US territories in written testimony submitted before the US House of Representatives hearing on voting rights and election administration.
On Tuesday, July 28, the House Administration Committee’s Subcommittee on Elections will hold a hearing to address the denial of voting rights in U.S. territories — an historic first.
While Congress has regularly held hearings addressing issues of political status in U.S. territories, never before has it held a hearing focused specifically on the issue of voting rights and disenfranchisement in these areas.
In his testimony, Underwood said the US government should live up to the American creed of representative democracy which gives consent of the governed to legislative bodies.
Recalling his experience when he represented Guam in the 103rd to 107th Congress in the U.S. House of Representatives, Underwood said his experience was invigorating and inspiring, but it could also be exasperating and sometimes dispiriting.
“Representing a territory in the nation’s capital presented many challenges and difficulties. The inability to fully participate in the proceedings of the House of Representatives and the lack of participation of your own constituents involvement in the selection of national leadership, most notably the President, is always top of mind. The best way to explain the nature of American citizenship in the territories was to explain to other Americans that territorial citizens could not vote for President,” Underwood said.
He added that the overseas territories seem like a different world and the US government tends to suspend the full meaning of democracy when it comes to them. Territorial Americans do not grant their consent to this body to make decisions about them.
“Territorial Americans are not allowed to participate in the selection of the nation’s chief executive who possesses legal and regulatory authority over them as much as he does the 50 states and District of Columbia. This is not just illogical. This is un-American. And it has no promise of being remedied because we think that voting rights and election reform does not include voting power and consent of the governed. The full discussion of whether territories should be represented in the body which makes laws over them is essential to defining the true meaning of the democratic creed. Voting for the President is equally important, but the lack of consent of the governed in the very body that governs, should be an affront to all and not just those people who live beyond the water’s edge,” Underwood said.
To remedy this injustice, Underwood is calling on the US government to grant real representation to the territories and let them vote for President.
“If they are going to be kept as territories until a future and final political status is determined, then they should be given the right to grant their consent to this body. As it stands now, the people of Guam, especially those in the military, must choose between voting for their Congressional Delegate or voting for President. If you are a soldier from Guam in a combat area today, you could choose to vote for your Congressional representative or give up residency and vote for President. No one in uniform or indeed, no American should have to make that choice,” Underwood said.
The former congressman acknowledged that distance and identity are major features of life for citizens in the territories, especially those from Guam, which is is over 9,000 miles away from Washington, DC. Despite the inequities, Underwood pointed out that the people of Guam love being from Guam and they participate in the military in high rates. Many more are temporarily assigned to work elsewhere and there are many who reside in any of the 50 states on a temporary basis throughout the year for business or family reasons.
“However, their legal residence and their heart remain in Guam. The current system of absentee voting requires ballot distribution and return via the mail. This has been in place for decades in Guam in spite of all the technological advances and security systems we have in place. I recommend that Congress works directly with the territorial governments to establish a secure system of electronic voting which can be monitored by all parties and which are verified by paper receipt for future reference or challenge. While important documents and paper checks continue to be delivered through the mail, the rate has gone down dramatically as we move towards more efficient and secure financial transactions,” Underwood said.
He added: “Voting should be similarly as efficient as well as honest. Without the efficiency, we put barriers to participation. Those barriers keep us from receiving the honest will of the people. We must remove those today.”