The right to vote is a vital aspect of the United States Constitution, and it is a fundamental right that is uniformly cherished throughout the nation. Yet, the right to vote is not fundamental for citizens residing in U.S. territories. The Seventh Circuit upheld this principle in Segovia v. United States. This resulted in the court using a rational basis test instead of strict scrutiny to analyze the Plaintiff’s Equal Protection Claim. The court first held that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the case under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (“UOCAVA”). In turn the court used rational basis to analyze the Illinois Military Overseas Voter Empowerment Act ("Illinois MOVE”), and limited voting rights for many United States citizens living abroad. As a result, non-resident U.S. citizens are not receiving absentee ballots depending upon which U.S. territory they reside in. For instance, a U.S. citizen in the American Samoa can receive an absentee ballot but a citizen in Puerto Rico cannot. This arbitrary infringement of voting rights is based on the underinclusive definition of United States in the UOCAVA.
That said, the plaintiffs could have established they had a fundamental right to vote by arguing that they were citizens of Illinois. The Constitution clearly asserts that the fundamental aspect of voting is embedded in a person being a citizen of a state. Although, the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment states that a person is a citizen of the state where they reside, the definition of reside relates to domicile, and courts look to a person’s domicile to determine state citizenship. So, if a plaintiff had been able to establish they are domiciled in Illinois they would have a fundamental right to vote, and the infringement would be subject to strict scrutiny. Accordingly, the issues in Segovia of standing, or the rationality of Illinois MOVE would have been of little consequence. The arbitrary distinction between similarly situated U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and the American Samoa would not survive a strict scrutiny analysis, and it would likely result in voting legislation that properly addresses the right to vote for citizens in U.S. territories.
Bryant L. Roby Jr.,
I Might Stay Awhile: The Fundamental Right to Vote in a Residency vs. Domicile,
Seventh Circuit Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.kentlaw.iit.edu/seventhcircuitreview/vol14/iss1/3