The island territories and democracy

Left to right: Flags of Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and U.S. Virgin Islands. (Images from 1,2,3,4,5.)
To give an idea of the relative scale of the island territories, here they are together. Some small islands omitted. (Image built from 1,2,3,4.)


The process of adding new states to the country was an important topic at the time of the Constitutional Convention. The original thirteen states’ governments did not effectively represent the Western territories.

Connecticut is circled in red. Massachusetts is similarly marked in blue. Both states had non-contiguous territorial claims thanks to intervening states. Image source.

Too small to be states?

First, Puerto Rico has several million inhabitants and has an area larger than Rhode Island or Delaware. Puerto Rico is clearly not too small to be a state. The obstacles to Puerto Rican statehood are political, with economic and cultural roots.

Puerto Rico is comparable to modern-day Connecticut in size and population — not including Connecticut’s former Western Reserve, which is now part of Ohio. (Image from 1,2,3,4.)
In order to help justify the admission of Illinois, the Illinois border was extended significantly northwards to include the area that is now Chicago. (Image source.)

A State of the Territories

Puerto Rico is comparable in size and population to Connecticut. The smaller island territories, combined, are roughly the size and population of an average county within in Connecticut. (Sourced from previous and source.)
  • Delegate consent to statehood or independence of a component territory to the territorial and federal government.
  • Arranges for some neutral process for eventual division into House districts, but also affirms that any component territory not large enough to have a House representative of its very own may continue to send non-voting delegates to the House.
  • Similarly, arrange for the selection of presidential electors, either at large or by division into districts.
Left to right: Flags of Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and U.S. Virgin Islands. (Images from 1,2,3,4.)

A Territorial Representation Amendment

Another permanent and effective solution to the problem of territories without democratic representation in government is to pass a constitutional amendment that grants each populated territory Congressional representation and the right to vote in presidential elections based on its population.

(Image source.)
  • Puerto Rico is large enough to deserve multiple voting representatives rather than a single nonvoting representative.
  • Mathematically, even if the House is not enlarged, giving territories a single representative doesn’t give them exceptional power in Congress. The House and Senate are roughly equal in power, so 1 senator is about as powerful as 4.35 representatives — so even the smallest state has Congressional power equivalent to 9.7 representatives.

Annexation into an existing state

Another possibility is annexation into an existing state — most logically Hawaii (in the case of the Pacific island territories) or Florida (in the case of the Caribbean territories).

For a territory the size of Puerto Rico, large enough to be a state in its own right, this seems particularly unlikely — but this is another possibility that would satisfy democratic principles. (Image from 1,2,3 .)


I have left discussion of independence for last on the list of options, because of a simple reason: Very few people living in any of the island territories today seem to want independence. If even a small majority of the population of any of the island territories had favored independence, they would have gotten it, much like the Philippines, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau.


In order for the United States to live up to its founding principles, it is important for us to insure that all Americans, including those living in island territories, have a fair vote in congressional and presidential elections.

Islands approximately but not perfectly to scale. Some smaller islands not pictured. (Image built from 1,2,3,4.)


My main argument is complete at this point in the article. Feel free to skim to the end and leave a comment. However, I feel the need to include a quick outline about the territories and to highlight some of the complications that are particular to each of the territories, because not all readers will be familiar with each of the territories.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has been through five status referendum. For 2012, territory votes are from the first question. The PPD had a highly successful boycott in 2017.

U.S. Virgin Islands

The Marianas

American Samoa

Dr. Tomas McIntee is a mathematician and occasional social scientist with stray degrees in physics and philosophy.

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