Getting out the Puerto Rican Vote

l to r — Melissa Mark-Viverito, Camille Rivera, Amy Mercado, Iris Y. Martinez, Mayra Macias

There has been a lot of discussion in the news and here on Daily Kos about Florida as a swing state, and what impact Puerto Ricans will have on that vote—especially with the influx of Puerto Ricans fleeing the results of the disaster of Hurricane Maria, many of whom have settled, perhaps temporarily or permanently, in Florida. 

Assumptions have been made about how they will vote and if they will vote. This was a key topic of discussion on the panel.

The recent article in the Washington Post, “The Daily 202: Puerto Ricans who fled to Florida after Hurricane Maria are not registering to vote” was used as an example.

Frustration with Donald Trump’s lackadaisical and even antagonistic response — he vilified the mayor of San Juan and threatened to cut off funding for Puerto Rico at one point — prompted even some Republicans to warn that the episode could doom his presidency. After all, George W. Bush’s numbers never really recovered after Hurricane Katrina.

Because they’re already U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans are eligible to vote as soon as they move to the mainland. The thinking last fall was that they’d be so angry at Trump that they’d be champing at the bit to vote against Republicans in the midterms. Operatives from both parties said that this could prove decisive in a perennial battleground like Florida where elections are always close.

Once again, the conventional wisdom turns out to have been wrong. Trump appears to be defying the old rules of politics. In this case, it’s because most of the Puerto Ricans who have come to Florida are not registering to vote or otherwise getting involved in politics. At least for now.

— The freshest data reveals that there has been no surge in new Puerto Rican voters. During the nine months before the hurricane — January through September of 2017 — there were 343,000 people who registered to vote in Florida, and 18 percent were Hispanic, according to Daniel Smith, the chairman of the political science department at the University of Florida. During the nine months after the hurricane — from last October through the end of June — there were 326,000 new registered voters. Just 21 percent were Hispanic. That’s a pretty small uptick — and not necessarily explained by Puerto Rican registration at all.

Panelist Mercado was one of the people quoted in the piece.

— State Rep. Amy Mercado (D), who is of Puerto Rican descent and represents Orlando, said that many of the folks who came last fall have been struggling to find affordable housing and jobs. “Their main focus obviously is going to be survival,” she said. “They have to contend with trying to figure out their day-to-day lives. So, honestly, the last thing they’re thinking about is politics.”

Mercado praised groups like Vamos4PRAction for trying to educate the new arrivals about how the system works on the mainland. She said Puerto Rico’s elections are very different from Florida’s. “They don’t understand that there’s a soil and water board, let alone why it’s important,” she said. “They don’t always realize that the local issues affect them first, before the national

What What issues.”

Panelists discussed that what many people fail to understand is that many evacuees are trying to find housing, moving from place to place, have health issues, children to settle, jobs to find, and quite a few are still focused on when they can go “home.” Plus, the hurricane and the aftermath has many people in a state of traumatic stress. Add that to the major differences in island politics—which are centered on how people feel about the status issue—and you have a key disconnect with what is going on here on the mainland.

Mark-Viverito stressed that when going out and engaging with the mainland Puerto Rican community—especially with those recently arrived—cultural competence matters.  Let me repeat that: cultural competency matters. If you don’t understand the culture of Puerto Rican political engagement—what motivates people to get involved and how you deliver a message that connects—you will have limited success. Support political groups who know what they are doing and have that cultural knowledge and experience.

Mainland GOTV efforts in Florida have adopted the use of “caravans” which islanders are familiar with.

Here are some of the tweets generated from the panel — though they got a very limited number of shares:

Dropping the ball (that question was from me)





A tweet promoting the initial panel

For those of you who are Samantha Bee fans, you are probably aware that she did a whole program on the crisis in Puerto Rico. One segment addressed (with humor) the voting situation for Puerto Ricans evacuees to the Florida mainland.

Puerto Ricans are leaving for mainland America, but they’re also leaving their voting habits behind. If only there were a celebrity to inject a little fun into the election… Produced by Tyler Hall with Adam Howard. Caravana footage provided by Ovidio Duran.

Rita Moreno is now the new face for a GOTV ad campaign, in Spanish and in English. Please share it.

#HurricaneofChange: Rita Moreno Encourages the Puerto Rican Vote! (Spanish)

People For the American Way is proud to announce the launch of the Hurricane of Change campaign, a Puerto Rican vote campaign as part of our Latinos Vote! program, to hold Trump and Republicans accountable for the disastrous response to Hurricane Maria and the devastation it brought to Puerto Rico. The campaign is launching with an ad in both English and Spanish, featuring Rita Moreno, an award-winning, Puerto Rican actress, encouraging Puerto Ricans to register and vote in November to create a #HurricaneOfChange this election. Register now: pfaw.org/register

Next year’s Netroots Nation in Philly (July 11-13) is many months away. By that time midterms will have been over and we will be moving into full out moves towards 2020.

Let’s do a better job as Democrats, supporting and actually doing something for Puerto Ricans—island and mainland.

Pa’lante Puerto Rico

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