Delegates and Resident Commissioners

In addition to its 435 Members, the membership of U.S. House of Representatives includes five Delegates and one Resident Commissioner. Delegates and Resident Commissioners represent territories of the United States and have a role similar to Representatives.

Office of the Delegate

Delegates, elected every two years, represent incorporated territories. Currently, there is one Delegate each from the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Delegates have served in the U.S. House of Representatives since the late 1700’s. The office of the Delegate was established by the Continental Congress through the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which established a government for the territory northwest of the Ohio River. Although it created the position of Delegate, the Ordinance did not outline the duties, privileges, and obligations of the role. In fact, the original legislation did not even designate whether Delegates should belong to the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate. After debate between the two Chambers it was eventually decided that all Delegates should serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Office of the Resident Commissioner

Resident Commissioners, elected every four years, represent unincorporated territories. In the current Congress, only Puerto Rico is represented by a Resident Commissioner.

The position of Resident Commissioner was created by Congress in 1900, after securing Puerto Rico and the Philippines as territories during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Following the precedent set by Delegates, Resident Commissioners from both territories were added to the roster of the U.S. House of Representatives. Since 1946, the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico has been the only Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives.


The duties of Delegates and Resident Commissioners have developed over time. Like Members, their responsibilities are not written in U.S. Constitution, and the laws creating the positions also fail to outline their duties.

Delegates and Resident Commissioners in modern Congresses are responsible for:

  • Representing constituents in Congress by acting as ambassadors for the industries and products of their territories and advocating on behalf of their district’s economic needs and political interests.
  • Serving constituents by communicating with them, assisting them in obtaining Federal benefits and grants, and seeking Federal funds for local projects and programs.
  • Debating and updating legislation in committees, and questioning witnesses in committee hearings.
  • Participating in floor debate, offering amendments to bills, and planning legislative and political strategies with their colleagues.
  • Managing their district and Washington, D.C. offices, including overseeing personnel.
  • Raising money to campaign for re-election, deciding on campaign strategies, and supporting candidates for local and state political offices.

Differences from Members

Although Delegates and Resident Commissioners share many of the same rights and responsibilities as Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, there some important differences between the roles.

Unlike Members, Delegates and Resident Commissioners are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. The positions of Delegate and Resident Commissioner were created through statutes. This has been the central point of debate regarding the most controversial difference between Members and Delegates and Resident Commissioners—their right to vote on legislation.

The U.S. Constitution defines a voting Member of the U.S. House of Representatives as a representative from one of the United States. Because Delegates and Resident Commissioners represent territories rather than states, they are not considered Members, and are unable to vote on legislation on the House floor.

In addition to restrictions on their voting abilities, Resident Commissioners serve a longer term than Members or Delegates. Members and Delegates are up for election every two years, while Resident Commissioners are up for election every four years. Resident Commissioners served two year terms when first entering Congress, but the term was later extended to four years at the request of the government of Puerto Rico.

Additional Resources