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Voter Education, Registration Drive Begins…Puerto Rico Has It Right

Puerto Rican Reachout: Voter Education, Registration Drive Begins

Joseph Spector, Staff

February 11, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Democrat & Chronicle. All rights reserved.

The Puerto Rican government on Tuesday announced plans to expand a national voter drive initiative to Rochester.

The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in 2002 launched a three-year, $6 million national voter education campaign in the United States, aimed at reaching the 1.7 million Puerto Ricans eligible to vote here.

Organizers said that expanding the effort to Rochester would hopefully increase the influence of local Hispanics. Rochester has the largest Hispanic population in upstate New York.

"The Hispanic community here is very, very large and if they all voted - either way, it doesn't matter - we are going to make a huge difference," said Octavio Garcia, who is Puerto Rican and co-chairman of the Monroe County Hispanic Republican Committee.

Puerto Rico started the initiative after realizing the poor voter participation of its citizens when they come to the United States. In Puerto Rico, residents vote at a higher rate than in any state in the United States. In 2000, for example, 82 percent of voters went to the polls in Puerto Rico.

Yet when they come to the United States, their voting rate drops to nearly 40 percent. The issue looms large in Rochester, where 78 percent - about 21,000 members - of the Hispanic population is Puerto Rican.

Voter registration "is always the first step," said Saul Maneiro, president of the Monroe County Young Democrats, who is of Puerto Rican descent. "It's like building blocks. Start at the bottom and build your way up."

Mari Carmen Aponte, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, made the announcement with local officials at the Monroe County Office Building.

She said the campaign includes having part-time workers set up voter drives in Rochester and starting an ad campaign, mainly through billboards. The effort will take place through the rest of the year.

Aponte said the aim is to educate Hispanics so they are more comfortable with American politics and voting. She said the reason voting falls off when Puerto Ricans come to America is largely because of social and cultural differences.

"Here it gets very complicated and confusing. Sometimes they don't even know how to pronounce the names of the candidates," she said.

The campaign has already had success, according to the Puerto Rican government. It has registered 190,000 voters nationwide - including 66,000 in New York, mainly through a voter drive in New York City.

The goal is to register 300,000 voters nationwide by the November election. The initiative is also being expanded in New York to Buffalo and Long Island and to other parts of the country.

Hispanics in Rochester, in fact, have already made significant inroads into the community and into politics. The Hispanic population in the six-county Rochester region nearly doubled to 48,000 from 1990 to 2000. In Rochester, Hispanics now represent 13 percent of the population.

And over the last decade, Hispanics have gained at least one seat on every major governing body in Monroe County. Last month, Hispanic leaders announced the second annual Latino Political Campaign Academy, where about 40 people attend classes on how to get involved in politics and run for office.

"The Hispanic voice is strong and influential," said Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, a Republican. "We have, on both sides of the aisle, strong and aggressive Hispanic organizations that help candidates get elected every year."

Local population

Although Puerto Ricans continue to dominate the local Hispanic population, Latinos from Mexico and Cuba are growing in numbers.


Puerto Rican 78%

Other 15%

Mexican 3%

Cuban 4%


Hispanics: 28,032

Total : 219,773

Monroe County suburbs

Puerto Rican 51%

Other 30%

Mexican 13%

Cuban 6%


Hispanics: 11,033

Total: 515,570

The Latino Vote: Puerto Rico Has It Right


February 12, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Democrat & Chronicle. All rights reserved.

Puerto Rico has it right: The more voters, the more clout.

All praise is due the Puerto Rican government for devoting $6 million to an issue it values highly - and one, incidentally, Americans should value more.

That would be voting. The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration is in the midst of a three-year campaign to persuade the 1.7 million Puerto Ricans eligible to vote in the United States to exercise that basic right. Rochester, with the largest Hispanic population upstate, is a focus of that campaign.

Why spend money to urge people living on different shores to vote? Because the Puerto Rican government wants its people, wherever they live, to exert political and social influence commensurate with their numbers. It's no secret that America's Hispanic population is fast-growing. If it were a voting bloc as active as, say, senior citizens, the impact would be far-reaching.

About 40 percent of all Hispanics eligible to vote in American elections do so. Imagine if that percentage began to approach the 82-percent turnout rate in Puerto Rico. Politics in Rochester and America would change dramatically.

The United States and New York state have committed to election reform, though the impetus for that was the presidential-election fiasco of 2000. Puerto Rico's motivation didn't come out of crisis or systemic breakdown; it emerged, apparently, because Puerto Rico believes in the power of the vote.

It's a conviction that should be catching.

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