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Blocked From The Ballot: Meet Pamela Colon, Who Lives In A U.S. Territory

Pamela Colon, who lives on the U.S. Virgin Islands, with her son Nicholas.
Pamela Colon, who lives on the U.S. Virgin Islands, with her son Nicholas.

In 1992, Pamela Colon moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands from Illinois. She is one of an estimated 4 million people living in U.S. territories  who are not allowed to vote in the presidential election, but are still under the jurisdiction of whoever sits in the Oval Office.

“When I first moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands, I did not realize I would lose the right to vote. I thought that was insane when I learned about it. The absurdity is that had I moved to the British Virgin Islands, a mere 40 miles away, I’d still be able to vote for president.”

Under federal and state overseas voting laws, U.S. citizens who move abroad are still able to vote for president via absentee ballot in their former state of residence. That isn’t the case for residents of most U.S. territories – the one exception is the Northern Mariana Islands, whose residents are allowed to vote both locally and in any former state of residence.

Pamela says she had voted in every presidential election she could until she moved, but she didn’t really think about the implications of her disenfranchisement until her son was approaching the age of 18.

“As my child grew older, I realized, there was going to come a time when he was going to have to register for selective service, yet he nor I will never be able to vote for our commander in chief.”

The U.S. territories have a higher rate of enlistment in the U.S. military than any state. As a result, the casualty rate in Iraq and Afghanistan is four times in Guam than the national average. Despite this, federal spending on veterans who live in the territories is low. They often must travel off the island to access resources from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, including PTSD treatment.

Pamela practices as a trial lawyer in St. Croix.

“I represent criminal clients who have been charged with federal crimes. They are charged as U.S. citizens with federal crimes, but hey have no participation in voting for the person who appoints the judges, or the senators who will affirm that appointment. They have no authority in the senators or representatives who pass laws.”

She says that federal responses to crises like hurricanes and COVID-19 are troubling.

“I want a federal government that will not treat us like second class citizens. I want a president that treats me like he’s my president.”

This conversation is part of our “Blocked From The Ballot” series, where we’re spotlighting different groups of people living in America (or in American territories) who are not allowed to vote in the upcoming presidential election.


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Avery Kleinman