Central Florida A Hub For Unaffiliated Puerto Rican Voters
Central Florida is now home to one of the state’s fastest growing groups: Puerto Ricans. Unlike other Latinos who arrive from outside the states, Puerto Ricans, once here, can vote for president of the United States. 90.7’s Renata Sago joined 90.7’s Crystal Chavez to talk about why Puerto Ricans are choosing not to be affiliated with a major party, as a debrief to her reporting on NPR’s Morning Edition.
CRYSTAL: So, Renata, it’s no surprise by now that Osceola County, particularly Kissimmee, has the state’s largest concentration of Puerto Ricans. How involved are they this election season?
RENATA: Well, they’re making two big political decision this election season: that’s leaving Puerto Rico for Florida and registering to vote when they get here. Thousands of Puerto Ricans continue to come here every month for jobs that just aren’t available on the island. Voting advocacy groups recognize the power Puerto Ricans have as citizens, and they’re really trying to register as many of them to vote as possible.
CRYSTAL: One of those groups is Mi Familia Vota, correct?
RENATA: Yes, you’ve done some reporting on their voter registration drives. Osceola’s canvasser Jeamy Ramirez has registered hundreds of Puerto Ricans. In explaining why most of them check ‘No party affiliation’ on their voter registration form, she says, “They don’t know a lot of the candidates. They start seeing the debates and all that stuff. That’s why they put no party affiliation and then in November they say democratic or republican.”
CRYSTAL: Do they know they can’t vote in the closed primary if they don’t join a party?
RENATA: Mi Familia Vota lets people know. I can’t speak for other groups registering voters, though. Jeamy Ramirez says the new arrivals kind of look at the primary as an intro course to politics stateside.
CRYSTAL: I see. So really, Renata, they’re just getting used to a different political system?
RENATA: Yes. Research shows they’re very involved in politics on the island. Carlos Vargas Ramos studies these trends at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at the City University of New York. He says elections are a cultural event there.
“Political parties do, in fact, mobilize the electorate—something that in many jurisdictions in the United States, particularly in jurisdictions where one party dominates, there is less incentive to do.”
CRYSTAL: But it’s not just newly arrived Puerto Ricans who are independent voters, correct?
RENATA: Right. Many have been here for decades. 69-year-old Luz Maria Sanchez has been an unaffiliated voter for the past twenty-five years. She’s voted for republicans and democrats, and if she doesn’t like a candidate, she doesn’t vote at all.
“It’s so hard because republicans they say they’re going to fix the country,” she says, “And democrats, they follow almost the same, but they go the other way around.”
That’s how a lot of people I spoke with felt. There’s research that only a small percentage of unaffiliated voters are truly independent. Most lean one way or another. And in this case, Puerto Rican independent voters tend to lean democrat. But many of them have joined parties in order to participate in Florida’s primary on March 15th.
CRYSTAL: Renata Sago on Puerto Rican unaffiliated voters, thanks for joining us.
RENATA: My pleasure, Crystal.
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