Harnessing the Power of Newly Arrived Puerto Ricans


The voter guide is aimed at encouraging Puerto Rican voter participation and helping newly arrived Puerto Ricans understand the Florida ballot. /Maria Padilla

How to harness the potential electoral power of newly arrived Puerto Ricans, whose American citizenship permits them to arrive by plane today and vote tomorrow?

That’s the principal question asked today, as Florida experiences an unprecedented migration of Puerto Ricans to the state. The voter participation of Puerto Ricans lags that of other voter groups, posing a dilemma for activists, community organizations and political candidates.

Misión Boricua, a community-based non-profit, may have tapped into a potential solution: a voter-focused, non partisan and bilingual guide Misión Boricua Informa in time for the November elections and aimed at encouraging Puerto Ricans to vote. The guide helps newcomers understand the differences between voting here and there.

(Full disclosure: I was the editor of Misión Boricua Informa.)

The move indicates that the push to get Puerto Ricans to vote has taken a new turn, a new tact in Central Florida. Lower Puerto Rican voter participation has long been a conundrum in Central Florida. Why do 78 percent of Puerto Ricans vote on the island but not here? (That number, by the way, is declining. More about that below.)

Interested Voters

It is not for lack of interest.

A recent poll of Puerto Ricans by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a progressive organization, showed that 85 percent of stateside-born Puerto Ricans indicated they planned to vote, versus 82 percent among island-born. Not a great statistical difference.

What’s more, a higher percentage of island born (87 percent) said the 2016 elections mattered a lot versus stateside-born Puerto Ricans (81 percent), according to the poll of 500 Puerto Ricans, which had a 4.4 percent margin of error. A bit more of a significant difference.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund financed the Misión Boricua Informa newspaper project.

Generational Disparities

Of the Puerto Rico-born, most (56 percent) said they had voted in Puerto Rico. However, the poll revealed wide generational disparities that get to the crux of the issue.

Of those under age 40, only 38 percent had voted on the island, compared with 62 percent of those over 40.

Younger poll participants also found it easier to register and vote in Florida (74 percent) versus those over age 40 (41 percent).

Voter apathy among younger Puerto Ricans may be impacting Central Florida electoral participation since the current historical migration from Puerto Rico is made up of younger, working- and voting-age Puerto Ricans.

Conversely, older Puerto Ricans who find it difficult to register and vote in Florida also may be impacting Puerto Rican voter turnout.

Voter apathy or turnoff is a growing concern in Puerto Rico, where voter participation has steadily declined since 1984, according to the Puerto Rico Elections Commission.

Puerto Rico’s lowest voter participation rate – 48 percent – was recorded in 1900, shortly after the United States took over the island. The highest  – 93 percent – occurred in 1920. In 1984, the voter participation rate was 89 percent, but it has fallen each year since, reaching 78 percent in 2012, the island’s last general election.

Puerto Rico Voter Participation

1900 – 48 percent

1920 – 93 percent

1984 – 89 percent

2012 – 78 percent

Newly arrived Puerto Ricans

It’s possible that lagging voter participation and voter registration-ballot difficulty or accessibility among the Puerto Rico-born population may exacerbate existing lower voter turnout among Central Florida Puerto Ricans as a new generation of migrants deplanes on our doorstep.

That is what Misión Boricua Informa, a voter-focused, non partisan and bilingual newspaper, aims to address.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

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