On Wednesday, January 24, the House of Representatives voted, 226 to 191, to increase the voting rights of the four Delegates to the U.S. House of Representatives from American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the United States Virgin Islands and the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico who in the recent past have been allowed to vote only in the standing and conference committees to which they have been assigned. This latest action allows them to vote in the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union, i.e., on amendments to legislation being considered. They are not allowed to vote on final passage. A caveat is that if their votes make a difference in passage of an amendment, there will be a re-vote in which their votes will not be counted. The qualification that the Delegates and Resident Commissioner could not determine the outcome of a vote was added to avoid conflict with the United States Constitution, which says that the House should be made up of representatives chosen by the “several States”.
These representatives were granted a similar privilege in the years 1993-1995, when the Democrats were last in control.
Historically, Puerto Rico has had a resident commissioner in the House of Representatives since 1901. American Samoa was granted a delegate on October 31, 1978, and the first delegate from American Samoa was elected in November 1980 and took office in January 1981. Guam and the United States Virgin Islands have both had a delegate since 1973.
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is the only insular area with a significant population that does not have a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. The Northern Mariana Islands, formerly a part of the U.S.-administered U.N. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, became a commonwealth on November 4, 1986, after signing a Covenant Agreement with the United States.