Afirman que los boricuas en Florida escucharon la importancia de inscribirse para votar

Orlando, Florida - Por primera vez en la historia política de Florida, organizaciones hispanas de base comunitaria crearon una gran alianza para navegar en la misma dirección y enfocarse en educar a cientos de miles de ciudadanos -principalmente puertorriqueños- sobre el poder y la influencia de su voto en este estado sureño.

“Es la primera vez que se establece una coalición para movilizar hispanos de una manera específica y, con ella, buscamos asegurarnos que entiendan el proceso político acá, pues cuando llegan se sienten intimidados”, dijo Betsy Franceschini, directora de Hispanic Federation en Florida.

Franceschini participó ayer en una teleconferencia junto a otros líderes de organizaciones como Frederick Vélez, del grupo Respeta mi gente, y Nancy Batista, de Mi familia vota.

En la reunión, también participó el congresista de ascendencia puertorriqueña Darren Soto, quien celebró el significativo número de hispanos, principalmente boricuas, que se han inscrito como votantes de cara a las elecciones de medio término del 6 de noviembre.

“La participación que estamos viendo de ciudadanos hispanos va a asegurar que los políticos escuchen”, afirmó el congresista.

Se estima que, en Florida, viven 1.2 millones de puertorriqueños y se cree que, tras el paso del huracán María hace un año, más de 50,000 boricuas se desplazaron a este estado, particularmente en la franja central, lo que se conoce como el Corredor de la I-4.

La I-4 es una autopista interestatal que cruza Florida de este a oeste, pero de forma casi diagonal.

Los puertorriqueños se concentran en diversas ciudades, en condados, en torno a esa carretera.

Más de 50,000 personas se desplazaron a Florida desde Puerto Rico tras María, y he trabajado con muchos de esos que han estado muy activos políticamente y que se han registrado. Pero, antes de María, ya había más de un millón, y muchos de ellos tampoco estaban registrados, pero el esfuerzo de estas organizaciones fue grande para lograr estas inscripciones”, resaltó Soto.

Hispanic Federation registró 27,000 nuevos electores. El 90% de estos son hispanos y, dentro del grupo de hispanos, el 80% se identificó como boricua.

“Nuestras comunidades han tomado las elecciones de medio término muy en serio”, indicó Batista, directora de Mi Familia Vota en Florida.

Esta organización registró 30,000 nuevos electores y el 51% de estos se identificó como puertorriqueño.

Recientemente, el director de Alianza for Progress, Marcos Vilar, estimó en 77,000 la cifra de boricuas registrados como votantes. Este número sale de los registros logrados por siete organizaciones, entre las que figura Hispanic Federation y Respeta mi gente.

Los otros grupos son Boricua Vota, Organice PR, Faith in Florida, Misión Boricua y Vamos por Puerto Rico.

A esto, se suman los registros que se pudieron haber materializado a través de PODER, la plataforma digital que fundó, en Florida, el gobernador de Puerto Rico Ricardo Rosselló Nevares para incentivar el voto de los puertorriqueños.

El presidente de esa entidad, Luis Figueroa, dijo antier que más de 30,000 personas dieron los pasos para inscribirse a través de ese portal.

Aunque de forma categórica se desconocerá la cifra exacta de boricuas inscritos, el número que asoma es dramático e histórico, según los líderes comunitarios.

“Les hemos estado insistiendo sobre el poder que tienen en Florida y en Puerto Rico si votan”, dijo Vélez, director de Respeta mi gente.

“Los boricuas han escuchado. Están prestando atención, y a base de la experiencia en Puerto Rico con la devastación que dejó María, han entendido y recibido el mensaje sobre la influencia que tiene su voto”, comentó Franceschini.

Kara Watkins
With registration over, groups in Florida aim to mobilize Latino voters, especially Puerto Ricans

MIAMI — With voter registration now closed in Florida, Latino groups are working to galvanize Puerto Rican and other Latino voters in a state with a number of key races that have the potential to flip parties and help determine who controls the House.

Tuesday was the last day to register to vote in Florida and over 57,000 Latinos were registered in Central Florida by Mi Familia Votaand the Hispanic Federation, two civic engagement organizations working under the coalition of Respeta Mi Gente which seeks to empower Puerto Rican voters.

Additionally, UnidosUS, a non-profit national organization, registered over 48,000 people in South Florida and Central Florida combined. Both areas have a heavy concentration of Latinos. It was the largest non-partisan effort to register voters in the state during this election cycle.

Central Florida has caught the attention of many in the political arena because of the large influx of Puerto Ricans that began with the financial crisis in 2006 and intensified after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island over one year ago.

Between 30,000 and 50,000 Puerto Ricans have now settled in Florida after Hurricane Maria, according to Stefan Rayer, Population Program director at the University of Florida. There are over 1 million Puerto Ricans throughout Florida.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and are able to vote when they move to the mainland U.S., once they register.

Now that the Florida deadline to register has passed, groups are focusing on educating voters and mobilizing them to get out to vote on Election Day, Nov. 6. Because political parties in Puerto Rico vary greatly from the ones here, groups are knocking on doors and educating former island residents on the political system here. In Puerto Rico, the two main political parties focus on the status of Puerto Rico, with one advocating for statehood and the other for the current commonwealth status.

Latinos are energized during this election cycle, according to different Latino groups.

“We witnessed voter turnout during the primary elections at rates seen during presidential elections,” said Nancy Batista, Florida state director of Mi Familia Vota.

The group registered 30,000 people to vote this year and in comparison, they registered just 3,000 more prior to the 2016 presidential election, when people are generally more enthusiastic about voting than in midterm elections.

The Hispanic Federation registered 16,000 prior to the 2016 presidential election; they registered 27,000 this midterm year.

“What we’re seeing is tremendous enthusiasm,” said Betsy Franceschini, senior state director for Florida at the Hispanic Federation.

She said they have seen a historical increase in participation in comparison to midterm elections in the past in the state of Florida. Over half of those they registered to vote in Central Florida are Puerto Rican.

Puerto Ricans are interested in a number of issues, especially economic ones, and not just rebuilding their island, as some people assume.

“What we found after having thousands of conversations is that it’s bread and butter issues that affect all Americans,” said Frederick Vélez from Respeta Mi Gente.

Rep Darren Soto, D-Fla., who was on a media call with the different groups, said “civic engagement now will make sure that politicians will be paying attention later to these critical issues facing the Hispanic community.”

With a month before the midterms, UnidosUS, which is not part of the Respeta Mi Gente coalition, is educating Latinos on the value of voting.

“When we join together with people from all walks of life to solve problems, we can ensure that our elected leaders work for the good of all our communities,” said Clarissa Martínez, deputy vice president of policy and advocacy for UnidosUS.

Kara Watkins
"Puerto Ricans have listened"

Orlando - For the first time in Florida's political history, Hispanic community-based organizations created a great partnership to achieve the same goal and focus on educating hundreds of thousands citizens - mainly Puerto Ricans - about power and influence of their vote in this southern state.

 "This is the first time that a coalition was created to mobilize Hispanics in a specific way and, with it, we seek to make sure they understand the political process here, because when they arrive they feel intimidated," said Betsy Franceschini, director of the Florida Hispanic Federation.

 Yesterday, Franceschini participated in a teleconference with other organization leaders such as Frederick Vélez, of the Respeta mi Gente (Respect my People) group, and Nancy Batista, of Mi familia vota (My family votes).

 Congressman Darren Soto, of Puerto Rican descent, also attended the meeting and celebrated the significant number of Hispanics - mainly Puerto Ricans - who have registered as voters for the November 6 midterm elections.

"The Hispanic participation we see will ensure that politicians listen," said the congressman.

 It is estimated that 1.2 million Puerto Ricans live in Florida and that after Hurricane María, a year ago, more than 50,000 Puerto Ricans moved to this state, particularly to the central area, which is known as the I-4 Corridor.

 I-4 is an interstate highway that runs diagonally across Florida, from east to west.

Puerto Ricans are concentrated in different cities, in counties, along that highway.

"More than 50,000 people moved to Florida from Puerto Rico after María, and I have worked with many of those who have been very active politically and who have registered. But, before María, they were already more than a million, and many of them were not registered either, but these organizations made a great effort to achieve these registrations," said Soto.

 The Hispanic Federation registered 27,000 new voters. 90 percent are Hispanic and, within that group, 80 percent identified themselves as Puerto Rican.

"Our communities have taken midterm elections very seriously," said Batista, director of Mi Familia Vota in Florida.

This organization registered 30,000 new voters and 51 percent of them identified themselves as Puerto Rican.

Recently, Marcos Vilar, director of Alianza for Progress, estimated the number of Puerto Ricans registered as voters at 77,000. This number comes from the records obtained by seven organizations, including the Hispanic Federation and Respeta mi gente.

 Boricua Vota, Organice PR, Faith in Florida, Misión Boricua and Vamos por Puerto Rico (Vamos4PR) are also part of this effort.

Registrations through PODER, the digital platform founded in Florida by the governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rosselló Nevares to encourage the Puerto Rican vote, joined these figures.

The president of that entity, Luis Figueroa, said that more than 30,000 people took the steps to register through that portal.

Although the exact number of registered Puerto Ricans will be unknown, the estimated number is significant and historical, according to community leaders.

"We have been insisting on the power they have in Florida and in Puerto Rico if they vote," said Vélez, director of Respeta mi gente.

 “Puerto Ricans have listened. They are paying attention, and based on the experience in Puerto Rico, with the devastation left by María, they have understood and received the message about the influence of their vote," concluded Franceschini.

Kara Watkins
'Hamilton's' Javier Muñoz Wants Florida Puerto Ricans to Know Their Voter ID Requirements

Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans in Florida are registered to vote in the November midterm elections and former Hamilton lead actor Javier Muñoz wants to make sure that they all have the proper voter identifications when they show up at the polls.

“There’s no question that the challenges many Puerto Ricans face today, still a year after Hurricane Maria, are great,” Muñoz told NBC News. “These challenges can be affected by our vote. Who we put into office will help determine the resources we could have to help us rebuild and get the healthcare we need."

For this reason, Muñoz, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York to Puerto Rican parents, has partnered with Spread The Vote on a campaign to raise awareness about voter identification laws in Florida and the need to get the proper documentation before Election Day. The nonpartisan 501c3 nonprofit helps people obtain government-issued IDs for both voting and other purposes.

Muñoz stars in a PSA campaign which will launch Wednesday.

Florida is one of more than 20 states in the country that requires some kind of ID in order to vote during elections. State law requires all voters to provide an acceptable form of photo ID with a signature. If such photo ID doesn’t include a signature, the voter will be asked to provide a second ID that has their signature.

Florida driver’s license or identification cards, U.S. passports, debit or credit cards, military identification and student identification are some of the forms of IDs the state of Florida accepts at polling places.

But half a million eligible voters in Florida don’t have these kinds of valid IDs, according to Kat Calvin, founder of Spread The Vote, especially Puerto Ricans who fled after Hurricane Maria.

“People were fleeing for their lives,” said Muñoz. “Imagine how many people had to leave their passports, students IDs," he said.

Over 200,000 Puerto Ricans left the island in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Nearly 160,000 former island residents relocated to the United States, according to the Center For Puerto Rican Studies. Over 56,000 specifically relocated to Florida and many settled in the Orlando area, already home to hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans. They joined a massive wave that began in 2006 after the island’s economic crisis, boosting Florida's Puerto Rican population from 479,000 in 2000 to over 1 million in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.

GETTING PROPER ID, SOME FROM THE ISLAND
Calvin told NBC that many Puerto Ricans lost documents and various forms of identification post-disaster. This prompted her to recruit volunteers on the ground in Puerto Rico. In order for Puerto Ricans in Florida to get proper state identifications, the necessary paperwork for these processes such as birth certificates, proof of residencies, medical records and DMV records, needs to be notarized in the island.

“Usually people get an ID for immediate needs like getting a job, applying for housing,” said Calvin. “Once they have that, they start looking at how their island was treated after the hurricane and now, they have the power to change that.”

Since Puerto Ricans are born with U.S. citizenship, once they move to the mainland they’re eligible to register to vote. And with the proper voter IDs, Puerto Ricans can vote in any state including Florida, where their vote could have a significant impact during midterm elections.

“Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rican don’t have that right to vote for president or Congress, but when they’re here [U.S.], they do,” Muñoz said. “Even though they have so much on their plate, it’s important they take the time to vote.”

So far, at least 77,000 Latinos are registered to vote in Florida next month. Over half of them self-identified as Puerto Rican, said Marcos Vilar, president and executive director of Alianza for Progress.

Alianza for Progress, a non-partisan coalition of organizations that advocates for the issues important to Puerto Ricans as one of the newest influential electoral demographics, told NBC News that the latest voter registration figures are based on the number of people organizations under Alianza have registered.

Vilar described the number as a "historic one for a midterm year.”

“I think this year’s spike is related to how the Latino community is reacting to the current political climate. Many feel they have been disrespected,” said Vilar in Spanish. “That’s one of the reasons we created ‘Respeta Mi Gente.’”

Alianza for Progress’ Respeta Mi Gente, Spanish for respect my people, is a campaign that attempts to build political power among the growing share of Puerto Rican voters in Florida.

“Not all Latinos have the same political perspective but no matter how they vote, they will have a determinant factor in the election,” Vilar said. 

Kara Watkins
Outreach groups: Puerto Ricans in Central Florida registered to vote in 'historical' numbers

Aggressive efforts in the past year to register potential Puerto Rican voters in Central Florida has yielded an estimated 40,000 newly registered Boricuas this year, according to Hispanic outreach groups that touted the figure as unusually high for midterm-election year.

“It’s surprising to me,” said director Betsy Franceshini of Hispanic Federation in Florida. “I’ve been here for over 30 years and… it’s the first time I’m seeing this enthusiasm.”

Frustrated by media reports they argue don’t paint a full picture, the Latino voter outreach groups — including Respeta Mi Gente, Mi Familia Vota and Hispanic Federation — held a call with members of the media Wednesday to make the case for a surge of Puerto Ricans registering to vote.

“We want to push back against the reports that work is not getting done, that people are not registering,” said Frederick Vélez, an organizer with the non-partisan coalition Respeta Mi Gente. “We can say that the job is being done, that we are registering voters, and we’re having those conversations at the doors.”

Even before the historic Hurricane Maria drove an estimated tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans to settle in Florida, about 1.2 million Puerto Ricans lived in the state. Vélez said that of about 77,000 new Central Florida voters the groups have registered in the past year, about 90 percent of them are Hispanic and close to 50 percent of them are self-identified Puerto Ricans.

The coalition said they have knocked on over 100,000 doors throughout Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole, Hillsborough and Lake counties. Because voters can choose to refrain from identifying as Puerto Rican, “it has been really hard to pin down an exact number,” Vélez said.

Franceschini explained that for many Puerto Ricans the groups have spoken with view Florida’s congressional and gubernatorial races as an opportunity to elect representatives that will advocate for the island. Puerto Rico has one non-voting representative in Congress and residents on the island cannot vote in the presidential election.

“There’s a little bit of intimidation at the beginning, but once we explain… what’s at stake, there’s a lot of enthusiasm,” said Franceschini, who called it a “historical increase” of Puerto Rican voters. “We are seeing that they are paying attention, especially with the experience that they had coming from Puerto Rico, especially with the devastation of Maria… they understand.”

Nancy Batista, Florida director of Mi Familia Vota, said she believed Puerto Ricans are an influential voting bloc among Hispanic voters in the state, and compared them with Cuban Americans in South Florida.

Tuesday was the last day to register to vote in most of the state, though Gov. Rick Scott's administration extended the deadline for county supervisor of election offices planning to close before the arrival of Hurricane Michael.

Kara Watkins
“Respeta Mi Gente” Coalition Leaders Speak on Priorities for Puerto Rican Community in November Midterm Elections

ORLANDO, FL — Today, Respeta Mi Gente, a coalition of advocacy, civil rights, faith and civic engagement organizations, launched its voter engagement, issue advocacy, and education campaign focused on building political power among the growing share of Puerto Rican voters in Florida and ensuring that the community’s priorities are front and center going into the 2018 midterm elections. Leaders representing these groups addressed the media to highlight priorities and action items the coalition will take to ensure elected officials and those running for office will prioritize the Puerto Rican community come November’s election.

You may watch a recorded version of our event here.

“Puerto Ricans in Florida must continue to build political power during and leading up to the 2018 midterm elections so that elected officials and those running for office are forced to pay attention and address the issues most affecting the community. The Respeta Mi Gente campaign will ensure these concerns are front-and-center and make sure concrete plans and actions are offered so that we see solutions for the future,” said Betsy Franceschini, Senior State Director Florida Southeast of Hispanic Federation.

“The work of ‘Respeta Mi Gente’ is a continuation of what we were doing under ‘Que Vote Mi Gente’ in 2016. The transition to ‘Respeta Mi Gente’ is focused on the failure of the U.S. Government to address the need of families who were displaced last year due to Hurricane Maria, the gross negligence of the Federal and State Government to provide relief in a timely manner and to rebuild the devastation caused by the hurricanes. That being said, the Puerto Rican vote in Florida is a vote for the community as a whole here on the mainland as well as those on the island who are voiceless and disenfranchised. The elections in November will be an opportunity to spotlight the growing power the Puerto Rican community in Florida,” said Marcos Vilar, President of Alianza For Progress.

“Through our work, we have registered to vote over 24,000 people since April 2018 and 100,000 since 2012 in Central Florida alone. We are especially proud that we are integrating the Puerto Rican population in rising numbers - we have seen that 51% of those who have registered to vote with us are self-identified as being of Puerto Rican descent. We believe that our communities will greatly benefit from being continuously involved in our government and election processes and we’ll be here to support their civic engagement,” said Nancy Batista, Florida State Director of Mi Familia Vota.

“This is the most important elections of our lives. We can be the change that we’ve been waiting for. We must continue to use ‘Respeta Mi Gente’ to educate our community. The power of the Puerto Rican and Hispanic community is in their vote. For Puerto Ricans who are coming from the island, one of the most important educational tools we must provide is for them to understand the voting process in the mainland and have them understand the importance of exercising that avenue of representation,” said Carmen Torres, Steering Committee Member, Vamos4PR.  

In the coming weeks, Respeta Mi Gente will continue their education efforts through a series of community events and door knocking campaigns to highlight not only the priorities of the community but critical deadlines around voter registration, vote by mail and other election day deadlines.

The deadline to register to vote in Florida in the upcoming midterm election is October 9, 2018.

###

Respeta Mi Gente is a campaign to build political power among the growing share of Puerto Rican voters in Florida and leverage it, together with the vote of the greater Latino population, to address the community’s priorities on the Island and on the mainland in the 2018 midterm elections.

Kara Watkins