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Early Voting Is Breaking Records

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Voters chat outside the Hoffner Avenue library early voting site in Orange County while others wait in line to cast their ballots. /Maria Padilla

Early voting is breaking records in Florida. And we still have one day to go.

“Seminole County already has more votes cast than were cast in the much-remembered 2000 presidential election.  Amazing,” stated Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel in a voting update.

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Sign outside Hoffner library early voting site. However, voters said the line was moving fast. /Maria Padilla 

As of Saturday morning, nearly 6 million people voted in all of Florida, or roughly 46 percent of registered voters, according to the state Division of Elections. The early vote is expanding and is ahead of mail-in ballots by almost 1 million.

Early Voting Split

Democrats and Republicans are about evenly split among early voters statewide. However,  no party affiliation or NPA – 626,000 votes thus far – is pulling the early vote numbers ahead of mail-in ballots.

As for political parties, Orange and Osceola counties favor Democrat voters in terms of registration and voting.

Meanwhile, in Republican-leaning Seminole, Democrats are drawing closer to the GOP  in numbers. But NPA voters likely will decide the outcome of many Seminole races.

Seminole Turning Purple?

Rollins College professor and political analyst Rick Fogelsong stated earlier this week, “Seminole County is turning purple,” meaning it may turn into a swing-vote county.

In the Orlando area, the early vote is shaping up as follows :

Orange

Early – 202,240, Democrats are about 47 percent, Republicans 29 percent, NPA  23 percent

Mail – 139,166; Democrats are about 45 percent, Republicans 33 percent, NPA 20 percent

TOTAL VOTES CAST – 341,406

Voter participation rate: 48 percent 

Osceola

Early – 50,332; Democrats are about 49 percent, Republicans 26 percent, NPA  24 percent

Mail – 40,108; Democrats are about 46 percent, Republicans 29 percent, NPA 23 percent 

TOTAL VOTES CAST – 90, 440

Voter participation rate: NA

Seminole

Early – 89,120; Republicans are 40 percent, Democrats 36 percent, NPA 22 percent

Mail – 56,140;  Republicans are about 45 percent, Democrats are 34 percent, NPA 45 percent

TOTAL VOTES CAST– 145, 260 

Voter participation rate: 50 percent

Visit Orlando Latino on Monday for the final early-vote tally. Remember, mail-in voting continues through Election Day.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Caravanas Cruise Orlando in Search of Voters

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This is the fourth caravana of the general election season, with one more to go the Saturday before the November elections./Maria Padilla

Puerto Rican caravanas – the get-out-the-vote staple of Puerto Rico elections –cruised Orlando streets  to generate voter enthusiasm in Central Florida.

Iniciativa Acción Puertorriqueña, together with Misión Boricua, Que Vote Mi Gente, Organize Now and others – all progressive leaning groups – drew 50 or more cars to the parking lot of the shuttered and decaying Kmart in the heart of Azalea Park to kick off its fourth caravana of the general election season.

With Puerto Rican flags and #BoricuaVota banners flapping in the breeze, the vehicles lined up by the Kmart curb before heading out to cruise the streets of southeast Orlando and Orange County, where many Puerto Ricans reside.

Five Caravanas

“The last caravana is next Saturday,” November 5, right before the November 8 elections in an as-yet-to- be-determined location, explained Jimmy Torres Vélez of Iniciativa Acción Puertorriqueña and the SEIU labor union. Three caravans already have tooted their horns in Buenaventura Lakes and Poinciana in Osceola County, and in Hunters Creek in Orange County.

All are aimed at revving up the crowd with traditional Puerto Rican bomba y plena music and scaring away voter apathy, a specter that haunts the organizations. The caravana routes are all in heavy Latino  areas, the focus of intense get-out-the-vote efforts.

In fact, Osceola has the highest voter turnout thus far among “the top five black and brown counties in the state,” according to Stephanie Porta, executive director of Organize Now, who added the data were from the VAN voter database system.

Organize Now is taking nothing for granted. Porta commented that since July her group has knocked on 1 million doors in eight mostly Hispanic counties in Florida.

Puerto Ricans Under a Microscope

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The Vamos4PR workshop preceded the caravana and focused jobs, education, health care and housing. /Maria Padilla

Puerto Ricans in Florida have come under a microscope as their numbers soar – over 1 million in the state – and organizations realize they are ripe for the picking and organizing.

Earlier in the day, Vamos4PR conducted a workshop attended by more than 100 people at the Centro Borinqueño in Orlando aimed not just at voter turnout but what happens after the ballots are cast and counted.

Vamos4PR wants to harness the potential power of the Puerto Rican population to influence the outcome of Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt crisis negotiations.

“We have to turn this crisis into an opportunity,” said Shirley Aldebol, vice president of SEIU 32BJ of New York, the driving force of the 30 coalition partners of Vamos4PR Florida.

Compared with Florida, a right-to-work state, Puerto Rico has higher labor activism – from teachers to  hotel workers. And decades-long links with stateside labor unions.

“Puerto Rican participation in the labor movement generally has been more intensive and consistent,” wrote Eddie González and Lois Gray in a Cornell University study, titled “Puerto Ricans, Politics, and Labor Activism” in the 20th century.

Filling a Vacuum

The influx of tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans to Florida has shocked Puerto Ricans already here with stories of hunger, homelessness and deprivation. It has lit a fire under this and local labor coalitions to fill the vacuum of what is perceived as a lack of official local government response.

“I lost everything,” said Kaisha Toledo, originally of Hatillo, Puerto Rico. “I have $283,000 of student debt and it terrorizes me,” she added, explaining that she accumulated the debt while studying for a Ph.D in Puerto Rico, where she worked as a mental health counselor. But she cannot practice in Florida and is desperately looking for a solution.

Blue for Life

In fact, many professional Puerto Ricans – teachers, for instance– say it’s difficult to navigate the state’s licensing procedures, which seem bent  on keeping people out than letting newcomers in.

If Vamos4PR Florida and other organizations succeed in drawing the disaffected Puerto Rican migrant to their movements, it’s a good bet the newcomers will be progressive for life, potentially turning the now purple state of Florida a deep shade of blue.

That ought to have Florida Republicans seeing red for years to come.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Chasing the Puerto Rican Voter

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Puerto Ricans need to vote in order to make a political and demographic difference.

With barely a week to go until Florida voter registration closes on October 11, a number of  groups are chasing Puerto Rican voters in hopes of impacting the November elections.

The state’s 1 million Puerto Ricans are a tempting target because they are relative newcomers and they have no obstacle to 1 mil tagvoting since all are citizens. Let’s take a closer look at the Puerto Rican voter profile.

According to Pew Research Center, there are 2.6 million eligible Hispanic voters in Florida. Of that number, about 27 percent or 700,000 are Puerto Rican. (Another 806,000 are Cuban, the highest number.) The remainder are made up various Latino groups, including Mexican, Colombian, Venezuelan, Dominican and more.

About 27 percent of Florida’s eligible Hispanic voters are Puerto Rican.

The universe of Hispanic voters diminishes when active registered voters are factored in, that is, those who actually vote. In 2016, that number is about 1.8 million active Latino voters, according to Pew Research. For argument’s sake, let’s assume the ratio of eligible voters and active voters remains the same (which it may not),  that reduces active Puerto Rican voters to 486,000 , a difference of almost 300,000.

Not Just Voter Registration

A great deal of work remains to be done to get 700,000 eligible Puerto Rican voters to the polls – and it’s not just voter registration.

Local Democratic Party activist and numbers cruncher Doug Head published on Facebook some cool stats on actual Orange County voting patterns, including among Hispanics. (The figures are available on the Orange County Supervisor of Elections website, but Head saved me the trouble.)

Using Orange County as a barometer – it has the highest population of Puerto Ricans in the tri-county area – the figures show that Hispanic voter turnout was 59 percent in 2012, the last presidential election year.

The Latino turnout in Orange County was below that of non-Hispanic whites, African Americans and Asian Americans, whose rate was 72 percent, 71 percent and 64 percent, respectively.

Lower Hispanic Turnout

A 59 percent turnout is good …  still, it means that about 4 out of 10 Hispanic voters (40 percent) were no-shows at the polls. A good chunk of those were Puerto Ricans because the group comprises half of Orange County’s Hispanic population. And, again, Puerto Ricans have no barrier to voting. Which means that, among Hispanic voters, Puerto Ricans may make up more than 50 percent.

Will Hispanic-Puerto Rican turnout in Orange County equal or top 59 percent in 2016? Will voter drives light a fire under the 40 percent of Hispanic-Puerto Ricans who couldn’t be bothered to vote in 2012?

That’s the 1 million Puerto Rican question.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Elections Race for Puerto Rican Voters

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Puerto Rican voters were attracted to this 2014 elections caravana traveling through Orange and Osceola counties. /Maria Padilla

The race to appeal to the hearts and minds of Puerto Rican voters in the 2016 presidential elections is off and running.

For months Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has wooed Puerto Ricans in Central Florida, among whom he is not that popular (see previous stories in Orlando Latino). This week his re-election campaign launched a “Puerto Ricans for Marco” group, boasting several hundred members.

Now also comes a coalition with a get-out-the-vote effort titled, “Que Vote Mi Gente,” which roughly translates to “Vote, people!”

Que Vote Mi Gente

The ad hoc group includes New York Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi and New York City Council President Melisa Mark Viverito – all Democrats. The coalition plans a series of community events, including candidate forums, caravanas (car rallies), public service announcements and a digital campaign focused on Puerto Ricans and other Latinos.

At stake is the looming October 11 deadline for registering to vote in the November elections. The Puerto Rican vote is a lucrative one. In each of the last five years about 60,000 or so Puerto Ricans have left the island. Most have landed in Florida. That figure does not include Puerto Rican migrants from the Northeast and Midwest.

100 Percent Increase in Puerto Ricans

The upshot is, Florida’s Puerto Rican population has soared nearly 100 percent since 2000, topping 1 million today, about equal to the Cuban population. Because Puerto Ricans are born U.S. citizens, they can vote.

“Those sheer numbers … [are] a powerful indicator of how great their impact will be in November,” said Beatriz López, communications director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund and a member of the Que Vote Mi Gente coalition in a press release following a press conference. “If candidates and elected leaders aren’t paying attention to this voting bloc now, they are making a very big mistake.”

The 60,000 question is, will Puerto Ricans vote?

Apparently, neither Rubio or Que Vote Mi Gente is taking any chances. Puerto Rican voters have to be appealed to directly. A one-size-fits-all doesn’t work. That’s one reason Rubio started his group (not to mention his high-profile pushes for Zika funding and appointment to an economic task force on Puerto Rico, among other things).

Knocking on Doors

Meanwhile, Que Vote Mi Gente organizers plan to knock on more than 100,000 doors in the I-4 corridor. The coalition states that nearly 1,000 voters have already requested mail-in ballots. It plans to hold caravanas and cafecitos, an approach aimed at boosting voter enthusiasm and which Puerto Ricans like.

For instance, caravanas are popular in Osceola County, home to the greatest concentration of Puerto Ricans in all of Florida. Democrats organized a caravan last week highlighting their candidates, especially State Sen. Darren Soto, who has an excellent shot at becoming the first Puerto Rican congressman from Florida.

“Florida’s Puerto Rican community will determine who becomes the next president of the United States,” boasts José Calderón, president of the Hispanic Federation.

A little hyperbole? Maybe, maybe not.

But, rest assured, neither Democrats or Republicans want to be on the losing end of the Puerto Rican vote in the battleground state of Florida.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor