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Orlando Sentinel

A Split Vote? Cast A Ballot To Be Effective

Maria Padilla

November 21, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel . All Rights Reserved.

The Osceola County Commission has weighed in with its redistricting plan, which splits the heavily Hispanic area of Buenaventura Lakes.

Many people understandably are upset, saying a divided community will make it impossible to elect a Hispanic in either district. Some are threatening to sue the County Commission.

As terrible as it may sound, the whole thing leaves me unfazed because the community has demonstrated on more than one occasion that it is apathetic.

If people don't vote in the numbers they should, it makes little difference whether they're in one large district or two smaller ones.

Osceola County is one-third Hispanic, and the figure for Buenaventura Lakes is even higher -- about 50 percent. Surely, Hispanics have as much potential for affecting elections as any other group under either redistricting scenario.

First, however, they have to cast ballots.

Hispanic organizations have shown they are very good at registering voters. In Central Florida, Hispanic voter registration experienced a double-digit expansion last year, the highest of any group. Still, there's a persistent gap between registration and voting. This is the case for all groups, regardless of color or ethnicity, but for Hispanic it's more so.

Boosting voter participation should be one of the Hispanic community's primary goals.

The reason is simple: Low voter turnout translates to low political clout. Elected officials pay less attention to people who don't vote.

That doesn't mean a community can be ignored. After all, homeowners -- whether they vote or not -- pay property taxes that fill county and school district coffers and support other services. Each time you make a purchase, you pay sales taxes, which also boosts the local economy.

Elected officials also factor in other considerations as well. When Election Day comes around, who's likely to show up at the polls? To raise money? To volunteer?

The low Hispanic participation in the political process has prompted at least one political party to set up its own Hispanic group that claims to speak for Latinos -- although it represents very few.

Whose fault is that?

Besides, there may be solid reasons for splitting Buenaventura Lakes into two districts. First, BVL is where the population is. That's because Osceola County is growing to the north, where Buenaventura is located. In addition, there's an off chance that two districts might diminish the community's isolation, but only the years will tell.

It's difficult for many people to see past the division of Buenaventura Lakes because Osceola already has proven to be hostile to Hispanic voters.

Osceola returned to countywide voting as soon as a Hispanic, the late Robert Guevara, was voted county commissioner under a single-member district plan.

To many Hispanics, the split of Buenaventura Lakes may seem like another hostile maneuver, although that argument goes only so far.

The relationship between voters and elected officials is not unilateral. People can voice their opinions at the ballot box.

It might do well to remember that nobody can take advantage of you without your consent. And as cruel as it may sound, folks deserve whatever they settle for.

If you think you deserve more, then you better get involved.

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