August 7, 2004 – Edward Browne is entering his second week of fasting, hoping that his struggle will bring attention to those U. S. citizens living in the territories who cannot vote for president. And his plea is being heard around the world.
Since the Source broke the news last Sunday, the St. Croix resident has been interviewed on the British Broadcasting Corporation, his story has appeared in the Associated Press, the Miami Herald and he was interviewed by local radio and newspapers. He has spoken by phone to both Sen. John McCain and Congressman John Lewis.
Browne began his fast on Aug. 2, consuming only liquid nourishment from water, Powerade and an occasional juice. He has lost one pound for every day of abstinence.
On the day he started the fast, Browne delivered two letters – one to Delegate Donna M. Christensen and the other to Jim Oliver, state chairman of the Republican Party and Holland Redfield, Republican National Committeeman, requesting that they forward the correspondence to the heads of their respective parties. Browne is asking for acknowledgement from Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and President George Bush. Browne wants "Congress to undertake serious Congressional hearings to address the rights of the people of the U. S. territories to vote for the President."
Redfield, who is presently off island, said during a telephone interview on Saturday, that he is going to follow up with the White House on Browne's situation.
"I will contact the office of intergovernmental affairs directly and indicate what is going on." Redfield said that Browne should not continue to harm himself.
"He should not abuse his body over this, it's a long process." Redfield said that the Republicans have always supported giving territories the right to vote for president. "It has been part of the platform and we plan to reinforce it at the Republican National Convention in New York which begins on Aug. 30," Redfield said.
In the original Source story, Dan MacMeekin, a lawyer in Washington, DC, who specializes in federal law as it relates to territories was quoted from his Web site saying the constitution allows that, "Only a U.S. citizen residing in a State is entitled to vote for the President of the United States." (See St. Croix Man Gives up Food for the Right to Vote)
MacMeekin has been observing this case and sent a follow up e-mail to The Source supporting the territories' efforts to have full participation in the democratic process.
He writes, "I would like to make clear that I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Browne, Gov. Turnbull, and Delegate Christensen. All United States citizens should be able to vote for the President of the United States and should have voting representation in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. To allow U.S. citizens residing in a foreign country to have these rights under the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act, U.S. Public Law 94-203, while the rights are denied to inhabitants of the U.S. insular areas is a travesty."
MacMeekin continues by saying "Short of statehood, finding the place of the U.S. insular areas in the American political family is a daunting political task."
"Statehood solves the problem, but the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands cannot realistically expect statehood in the immediate future. Indeed, any improvement in the political rights of the residents of these areas is unlikely so long as the political status of Puerto Rico remains unresolved.
If the U.S. Virgin Islands, or any other U.S. insular area, is afforded an advantage without achieving statehood, that advantage will be seen as tilting the divisive Puerto Rico status debate. ("A vote in favor of statehood is not needed to achieve this particular advantage; Puerto Ricans can have this advantage without giving up their Commonwealth status.") This is a difficult problem, and I do not know how it should be resolved. But I do want that Edward Browne not endanger his health in seeking a solution. It will be a long battle, and his passion and dedication will be needed for years to come."
The territories are not the only possessions under the U.S. flag to ever be embroiled in the right to vote controversy. The District of Columbia, better known as Washington, D.C. was only granted the right to vote for president in 1961.
Washington is not part of any state but rather composes a federally managed district, with limited local rule.
MacMeekin also writes, "The fundamental document defining the powers of the National and State Governments is the Constitution of the United States, adopted in 1789. Under the Constitution, as amended over the years, three central premises help to define representative democracy in the United States. Only a U.S. citizen residing in a state is entitled to vote for the President of the United States, the head of the executive branch of the National Government, State Senators or Representatives in the House of Representatives. So, to vote for the President or for Senators and Representatives in the U.S. Congress, one must be a resident of one of the States. U.S. citizenship alone is not enough."
The District of Columbia fought to attain voting representation for many years, and on March 29, 1961 the Twenty-third Amendment to the constitution was ratified, which allows residents of Washington, DC to vote for President and have their votes count in the Electoral College. Currently it has three Electoral College votes. Today, residents of D.C. continue the struggle for a vote in the House and the Senate where they are represented by a non-voting delegate and have no representation in the Senate.
Delegate Christensen also recently expressed that the battle to gain the presidential vote will be a long one. Christiansen has submitted a bill as an amendment to the Constitution that will give people of the territories the right to vote for president. In addition, Christiansen sent correspondence to John Kerry and President George Bush on Brownes behalf.
As the controversy wages on, Browne continues to stand his ground, adamant in his beliefs and determined not to eat solid food. He said he has heard words of ridicule as well as words of encouragement.
Browne believes that one individual can make a difference. "I will always tell my story to those who want to hear, how a small fish took on the big fish."
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