For partisan voices eager to tilt registration rolls in the critical swing state of Florida, there is gold in them there newly arrived Puerto Ricans. For the partisans who fear they may lose out, there is a race to convince Puerto Rican voters of the kinship between the two.
Florida “estimates that nearly 300,000 U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico fed to Florida after Hurricane María. Some will stay, register and vote. … If Florida turns as reliably blue as California and New York, Republicans, starting with Donald Trump, may never win another presidential election,” wrote Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal last week.
All this is happening before many Puerto Ricans have settled into permanent residences. Before many have solicited permanent, not temporary, Florida identifications needed to register to vote, by the way. But most important, before the trauma of fleeing a hurricane-wracked Puerto Rico empty-handed is digested or properly dealt with.
Activists and organizations who really want to help Puerto Ricans should start with basic necessities. It may surprise people to learn that voting is not a basic need. In fact, there is no election until the August primaries, seven months away. Voting participation is a lot like concern for the environment: Once fundamental needs are addressed you can turn your gaze elsewhere. The Puerto Rican evacuees are far from reaching this goal. Plus, they are very much concerned about family back home.
Undercurrent of Pain
The eagerness to politicize Puerto Rican voters so early in the heart of the Puerto Rican diaspora is both bold and brassy. But it does not take into consideration the undercurrent of pain coursing through the Puerto Rican community and it doesn’t take into account the utter political failure of island and federal governments to care for Puerto Rico’s most vulnerable, which given its high poverty level and poor housing conditions includes over half the island population.
Frankly, Puerto Ricans are bored with politics – tired of the back and forth between so-called leaders as relatives or neighbors sit under blue tarps, if they have one, in battered homes reminiscent of Third World living conditions.
And by the way, Puerto Rico voter participation has been declining for decades – some say it has “collapsed” –from the high 88 percent rate of years past. In addition, an increasing number of island eligible voters, notably its youth, fail to register.
The Puerto Rico Elections Commission states Gov. Ricardo Rosselló was elected in 2016 with only 55 percent of the vote, and received the lowest percentage of votes of any governor, 42 percent.
As I write, Rosselló and FEMA are arguing – four months after the hurricanes hit – about whether Rosselló asked for long-term federal housing assistance for hurricane victims. At a townhall meeting in Kissimmee, Rosselló said he would request the program for Puerto Rico first, then Florida evacuees.
FEMA countered that the help has been available on the island since October, which the governor denied, according to an Orlando Sentinel story. Sen. Marco Rubio, with whom Rosselló is locked in a feud, is pressing Rosselló to request federal housing aid for Puerto Rico evacuees in Florida. Whom to believe, Rosselló or Rubio?
But we are treated to the second coming of a Rosselló in Central Florida – the first being his father former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, who originally opened the Federal Affairs Administration office in Orlando City Hall in the late 1990s – as if his response to the hurricane’s devastation merits an A+.
It most certainly does not.
Registered to Vote
Since many organizations are tripping over themselves to register Puerto Rican voters, let’s end by glancing at the numbers for Orange County, where most Puerto Rican voters live.
Osceola County has the highest concentration of Puerto Rican voters in Florida and the Orlando Sentinel reports voter registration among Hispanics rose by 3,000, from Sept. 21 to the end of 2017. The Osceola County Supervisor of Elections counts 95,456 Hispanic voters in Osceola as of January 28, 2018 or 47 percent of all voters, according to its website.
It’s important to note there are no separate figures for Puerto Rican voters, who fall under Hispanic voters. We extrapolate a guesstimate based on the 50 percent or more of Hispanics in Central Florida who are Puerto Rican.
Orange County Hispanic Voters
October 1, 2017 January 2018 Difference
191,102 195, 279 +4,177
Source: Orange County Supervisor of Elections
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor