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The Post Standard/Herald-Journal

Effort Aims To Add Latino Voters; Puerto Rican Officials Bring Campaign To Register Latino Voters To Syracuse

By Luis Perez, Staff writer

January 21, 2004
Copyright ©2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Representatives of the Puerto Rican government will be in Syracuse today pushing a nationwide voter registration drive.

The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, which functions as the arm of the commonwealth's government on the U.S. mainland, is in the midst of a three-year effort to sign up new Latino voters.

"If Hispanics are going to be the largest minority in the States, we have to make sure that means something," said Laura Irizarry- Huertas, the administration's New York regional director based in Manhattan.

The administration has signed up more than 65,000 voters across New York since it kicked off the campaign in July 2002, Irizarry- Huertas said.

Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, are the second-largest group of Hispanics in the United States behind those of Mexican ancestry. About 3.4 million Puerto Ricans reside on the mainland, administration officials said. That's roughly the same number as live in Puerto Rico.

In Central New York, 7,912 of the 15,112 who identified themselves as Hispanic in the 2000 Census said they're Puerto Rican.

Local Latino leaders and administration officials want to spur the same political involvement here as there is on the island.

More than 80 percent of Puerto Ricans on the island vote, administration officials said. But once they relocate to the United States, that number drops to nearly 40 percent, they said.

In Puerto Rico, residents vote for local and commonwealth offices. When they move to the U.S. mainland, they also get to vote for national offices.

"I think it's exciting that the government of Puerto Rico is behind this voter registration drive," said Syracuse Common Council President Bea Gonzalez, who was born in Puerto Rico.

If they can help with some strategies to improve voter participation locally, "I'm all for it," she said.

On their first trip to Syracuse, Irizarry-Huertas and two other administration officials plan to meet with Syracuse University students, local residents and Latino leaders and appear on two local Spanish-language broadcasts: "Entre Vecinos," which means "Between Neighbors," a bilingual TV program airing 7 a.m. Sunday on WSTM-TV (Channel 3) and "Para Adelante," a local radio program.

While administration officials target Puerto Ricans, Myra Orsini, executive director of the Spanish Action League, said the importance of voting affects all Latinos. Sometimes people don't realize the power behind the vote, Orsini said.

Going to the ballot box gives people the power to say: "This is what I want for me. This is what I want for my family. And this is what I want for my entire community," she said.

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