Judge Upholds Laws Disenfranchising Hawaiian Voters Who Move to U.S. Territories

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, Sept. 6, a federal judge ruled that U.S. citizens who formerly lived in Hawaii are not permitted to vote absentee in federal elections if they moved to certain U.S. territories.

This decision comes out of a lawsuit filed on behalf of former Hawaii residents now residing in Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands who challenged two federal laws — the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) and Hawaii Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act (Hawaii UMOVA) — that preclude former U.S. state residents from voting absentee for president in their former state if they are currently living in Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa or Puerto Rico.

The plaintiffs point out that former Hawaii residents may vote absentee for president if they currently reside in the Northern Mariana Islands, certain other U.S. territories or live abroad. Despite being both U.S. citizens and former Hawaii residents, the plaintiffs cannot vote absentee for president because they reside in either Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs argue that former “state residents of Hawaii living in Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico are disenfranchised and relegated to a status as second-class citizens in ways they would not have been had they moved to anywhere else on Earth.” The plaintiffs allege that the UOCAVA provision and the Hawaii statute violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses under the Fifth and 14th Amendments and violate a federal law protecting the rights of those living in U.S. territories by treating “similarly situated former state residents differently based on where they reside overseas.”

On Tuesday, a federal judge upheld the plaintiffs’ second-class citizenship status by ruling that they are not permitted to vote absentee for president from Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

In the decision, the judge, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, rejected the plaintiffs’ claims that the UOCAVA and UMOVA provisions at issue violate the Fifth and 14th Amendments, holding that the statutes that disenfranchise these citizens do not infringe upon the right to vote.

Additionally, the judge stated that “territorial residents have no right to vote in federal elections and U.S. citizens who move to certain territories likewise have no right to vote absentee in their former states of residence.” The judge concluded that granting the plaintiffs the right to vote would “create a class of ‘super citizens’ whose ability to vote in federal elections — a right not given to territorial residents — would turn on prior residence in a state,” even though the plaintiffs are simply advocating to not be disenfranchised based on their current residency. 

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.