HBO Series Looks at Voting Rights – or Their Lack – in V.I., Other Territories

The voting rights – or lack thereof – in the U.S. territories was the subject of a commentary Sunday on the HBO comedy program "Last Week Tonight."

The segment of the program can be seen on the front page of the Source.

In the video, program host John Oliver linked the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the voting rights march through Selma, Alabama, with the larger question of a group of more than four million American citizens who lack the right to vote in presidential elections or have voting representation in Congress.

The report then cut to video of Delegate Stacey Plaskett from the V.I. on the floor of Congress calling attention to the lack of full voting rights for residents of the Virgin islands, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Northern Marianas islands.

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Oliver called it "the kind of unsettling fact that deep down you probably knew, but chose not to think about."

Even worse, he said, is "why" those residents, though officially U.S. citizens, are denied equal voting and representation. It’s because of a 1901 Supreme Court decision that said the territories – which then did not include the V.I. but did include the Philippines – were populated by "alien races" that were unable to understand Anglo Saxon legal and political traditions. The decision was written by Justice Henry Billings Brown, who five years earlier had written the notorious Plessy v. Ferguson decision upholding the legality of "separate but equal" facilities for blacks and whites. That decision stood 60 years before being overturned in Brown v. Board of Education in the 1950s.

 Oliver pointed out that more than 98 percent of those territorial residents are racial or ethnic minorities. Puerto Rico alone has "more American citizens than 21 U.S. states, but less voting rights than any of them" he said.

Further, Oliver said, the 1901 court decision said denial of rights would be legal "for a time," indicating that as the residents became assimilated in U.S. culture, those rights would be addressed.

"It’s like for over a century, America’s computer is saying, ‘an update to your country is available,’ and we’ve been clicking ‘remind me later’ again and again and again," he said.

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