Voter Discrimination in Guam?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The blog of the Competitive Enterprise Institute reports that people on American soil are being barred from voting on the basis of race, and that, "the Obama Justice Department is refusing to enforce federal voting-rights laws in a race-neutral manner." According to a former Justice Department lawyer writing for National Revies:

Guam . . . bars anyone who is white, Asian, or Filipino from voting in this plebiscite, and even makes it a crime for them to try to register.

Guam is unapologetically and unabashedly violating federal law. Section Two of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits the "denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color." Section Two was derived from (and is authorized by) the 15th Amendment, the post–Civil War amendment that established that the right of American citizens to vote could not be "denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Both the Voting Rights Act and the 15th Amendment apply to all U.S. citizens, including residents of Guam. Further, the 1950 Organic Act of Guam . . . states that no "discrimination shall be made in Guam against any person on account of race." . . .
There is a class-action lawsuit underway against Guam.

When I first encountered this news, it made by blood boil for a moment, but then a simple Google search showed me that things may not be so simple. According to the voter registration manual published by the Guam Election Commission:
"Native Inhabitants" shall mean those persons who became U.S. citizens by virtue of the authority and enactment of the 1950 Organic Act of Guam and descendants of those persons... "Descendant" shall mean a person who has proceeded by birth, such as a child or grandchild, to the remotest degree, from any Native Inhabitant of Guam, as defined in Subsection (e), and who is considered placed in a line of succession from such ancestor where such succession is by virtue of blood relations.


These included Spaniard, English, American, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Mexican and citizens of other countries. They had one year from the American take-over to step forward and reaffirm to retain their respective country citizenship or choose to make Guam their home. [format edits, italics added]
Further reading at the Statehood for Guam site indicates that there are indeed non-Chamorro individuals among the eligible voters. That said, I am nonplussed by the dubious eligibility requirements. On the one hand, just as any state would limit voting in a plebiscite to its own residents, the territory of Guam is arguably doing the same. On the other hand, these requirements in no way look like the residency requirements of the states some in Guam aspire to join.

The last line of the above quote makes it sound to me like anyone there who was already an American citizen, but wanted to make Guam his home would have had to renounce his citizenship, then gain it back to become a citizen of both -- something that strikes me as inconvenient and not likely done. If that's correct, then Guam's eligibility requirements less resemble normal state residency voting requirements and more closely resemble some of the thinly-disguised voting requirements, such as "literacy", that were used to exclude black voters from the rolls of southern states under Jim Crow.

-- CAV


Connie Rosario said...

I look at it this way: There is an occupying nation and we are subject to the occupiers laws and we want to vote upon ourselves if we want to be subject to the occupiers laws. Why would we want to let the occupier vote on whether we want them to occupy us or not.

Gus Van Horn said...

If everyone on Guam, in fact, shared your attitude towards my country and me (How the hell do you know how I'd vote?), I would wish your island immediate independence and my country to be free of any association with it, God speed.

Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, this is a consequence of the different types of territorial administration in American constitutional theory. Guam is like Puerto Rico in being an unincorporated organized territory. In short, "territory" means it's under American sovereignty, "organized" means that it has a local government with some measure of self-rule, either a congressional organic act or a territorial constitution, and "incorporated" means that the constitutional protections of American citizens are extended to the inhabitants.

The status of Puerto Rico is a result of its being conquered in the Spanish-American War, and it was decided by a series of Supreme Court cases called the Insular Cases. Among the more distasteful consequences of these cases are that certain classes of American citizens, those who are citizens of unincorporated territories like Puerto Ricans, need not have any recognition or protection of constitutional rights. (For example, it was later decided in 1922 the Supreme Court decided that Puerto Ricans, and by extension citizens of other unincorprated territories, did not have an automatic right to trial by jury.) Pretty shameful stuff if you ask me.

Gus Van Horn said...


Many thanks for lending your historical knowledge to this thread.


RCGUAM said...

Hi Gus,

Guam today is so much different than Guam in the early 1900s. Much growth politically has occurred. Yet a few still talk as if we are "oppressed" by the great colonizer. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I am native and my all members of my family are honored to be american citizens. We would not ever wish anyone be restricted to vote in their chosen community.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you for speaking up, RCGUAM. I doubted that CR, above, was necessarily a good representative of your island, but it's nevertheless nice to hear, from someone who would know, I am right about that.

Jim May said...

Gus: your answer to Connie reminds me of the one I always gave to Quebec separatists. It's the same barbaric tribalism.

Gus Van Horn said...

The hardest part about dealing with such people is refraining from using the expletives they deserve to hear, but which would only make it easier for them to fool themselves into feeling superior.