As the November general election approaches, political parties and civil rights groups are underway with voter registration drives, on the one hand attempting to increase the voting strength for partisan candidates and on the other to enhance the overall participation of the electorate in the voting process. With the Y-2000 elections razor-thin majorities deciding the victory in many races, including the Presidency, citizens are more then ever aware that their vote will "count."
The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization founded in 1920, just six months before ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote, has remained one of the most active organizations in registering citizens of both genders nationwide. Its website provides an on-line form allowing any citizen to register or update voting eligibility and forward the form to the appropriate state and county registrar. Subsequently, the applicant will receive email notification of his or her voting status. The form can be accessed at www.lwv.org
For Puerto Ricans living on the mainland, efforts are underway to either register them to vote in local, state and federal races or to obtain absentee ballots to qualify them to vote for elective offices on the island on November 7, 2004.
Some Puerto Ricans living away from the island at election time can qualify to vote by absentee ballot. The Puerto Rico Electoral Commission (Comisión Estatal de Elecciones) lists some ten eligible categories, including full time students, members of the military, diplomats, certain contractors and even prisoners confined to jails outside of Puerto Rico. In some cases, for example students from the island studying at mainland universities, individuals can make a choice as to which political process they prefer to enter into as a voter, the mainland or the island...
This weeks Hot Button Issue poll asks readers to state a preference for which electoral battle they would wish to join, assuming that they were qualified to register in both.
The Republican Partys nationwide effort to register 3 million new voters before Election Day began with a week-long drive beginning on March 6th. According to Mary Ellen Gant of the Republican National Committee (RNC), the 7-day effort exceeded the 1- million voter goal, with the final count in at 1,029,492. Volunteers in 50 states are the backbone of the registration drive in their local communities. Their efforts are assisted by "Reggie, the Registration Rig," a 16-wheeler, tractor trailer that will travel throughout the nation until November. When "Reggie" makes stops at public events, it opens up into a sound stage as a venue for concerts. The website www.gopteamleader.com/reggie tracks the rigs movement along the nations highways. On March 25th, Reggie set up in New Yorks Times Square for a concert telecast by MTV.
National Democrats are focusing their attention on motivating already registered Democrats to turnout on Election Day to defeat George W. Bush and add to Democratic strength in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Democratic National Committee (DNC/www.dnc.org) spokesperson, Jano Cabrera, told the Herald that "although the Democratic Party is targeting its efforts to key states, it is working to see the entire Democratic vote top-off at record levels." As part of the effort, the DNC has organized eleven "voter outreach desks," staffed to focus on such groups as African Americans, Latino/Hispanic Americans, Women, Senior Americans and Veterans. One desk, "College Democrats," presumably will be targeting the same Puerto Rican students as will the Americans for Puerto Rican Statehood (APRS).
In a recent press release, APRS announced that it is beginning a project to encourage absentee voting in the Puerto Rican elections by island students matriculating at mainland colleges and universities. APRS spokesperson, Rocío Vélez, told the Herald that the group is contacting its members at various campuses to encourage Puerto Rican students to obtain absentee ballots in time for the islands general election in November. To this end it has developed a website, www.votoausentepr.com, that links to the Puerto Rico Electoral Commission. Ms. Vélez says the group has set the goal of registering 3,500 qualified Puerto Ricans to vote by absentee ballot. That number represents the approximate total absentee votes registered in the Y-2000 general elections.
Although the effort is non-partisan, it is likely that APRS will be encouraging votes for the statehood-leaning New Progressive Party (NPP). It was at a function for Luis Fortuño at The American University in Washington, D.C., that the group announced the initiative. Fortuño is the NPP candidate for the Resident Commissioner post.
The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), operating out of a headquarters in Washington and 12 regional offices, has renewed its efforts to register Puerto Ricans residing on the U.S. mainland to vote in the mainland elections. The 3-year effort began in 2002 with great fanfare as the islands Governor, Sila Calderon, traveled to New York, New Jersey and elsewhere to kick off the drives. The six million dollar budget for the registration drive has been controversial. Critics question if money from the islands treasury ought to be used to promote voting in mainland jurisdictions.
To date, the campaign has registered some 190,000 Puerto Rican and Hispanic voters nationwide but it recently ran afoul of local election officials in Chicago, IL, when it was announced that two PRFAA employees were being investigated for fraudulently registering between one and two thousand registrations. Allegedly, the registrations were done using false names and addresses. PRFAA joined with Chicagos Board of Elections to announce a joint investigation of the matter. PRFAA Executive Director Mari Carmen Aponte expressed her determination to investigate the situation and punish any guilty party under her authority. "Should any irregularities be found, full disciplinary action will be taken in cooperation with the Board of Elections."
So, if you are a Puerto Rican living on the U.S. mainland, chances are good that someone will ask you to register to vote next November. Assuming that you were qualified to vote in either a mainland or an island election, which one would you choose?