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PRFAA’s Registration Campaign Expands… Nat’l Effort Comes To Jacksonville… Area Puerto Ricans Are A Wild Card In Osceola

Nation's Largest Hispanic Voter Registration Campaign Expands To Jacksonville, Tampa And Opens New Florida State Headquarters Puerto Rican Vote Pivotal In Key Battleground States Including Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio; Historic Effort Has Registered 225,000 Voters Nationwide; Increased First-Time Voter Participation By 70 Percent In The 2002 General Election

May 13, 2004
Copyright © 2004
PR Newswire Association LLC. All rights reserved.

KISSIMMEE, Fla., May 13 /PRNewswire/ -- More than 300 members of the Jacksonville, Tampa and Kissimmee communities gathered in three separate rallies waving Puerto Rican flags and cheering as Mari Carmen Aponte, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, announced the next expansion phase of what has become the nation's largest Hispanic voter education, registration and mobilization campaign. In addition to launching the campaign -- known as "¡Que Nada Nos Detenga!" (Let Nothing Stop Us!) -- in Jacksonville, Aponte also launched the initiative at a rally in Tampa, followed by the grand opening of the campaign's Florida state headquarters in Kissimmee.

The nationwide, non-partisan voter registration and education program targets the 642,000 Puerto Ricans living in the mainland United States who were not registered to vote as of July 2002. Florida is home to more than 2.7 million Hispanics, 624,000 (23%) of whom are Puerto Rican.

To date, the campaign has registered 225,000 voters nationwide -- including over 35,000 in the state of Florida -- and will reach the goal of registering and turning out 300,000 voters by the November 2004 elections. Exit polls and quantitative research studies show that in the 2002 mid-term elections the campaign generated an increase in first-time voter participation by more than 70 percent from the 2000 presidential election year. In the 2003 off-year elections, first-time voter turnout was up 60 percent from 2000.

"This campaign is about solidarity, pride and empowerment," said Aponte. "We are mobilizing Puerto Ricans and raising awareness of their potential impact on elections in Florida, as well as issues that affect their communities and the Island. All citizens play an important role in the political process and should have the information and the opportunity to help control how decisions are made that affect their daily lives."

Also participating in the Jacksonville rally were Martha Pollino, chair of the Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Council; Willie Gonzalez, North Florida District Director of the Small Business Administration; and local PRFAA voter registration officer Victor Cora, who will lead the campaign's development in the local area. Duval County's Elections Supervisor John Stafford was also in attendance.

Thursday's Tampa launch rally in the gardens at Ybor City Museum featured the City of Tampa's Hispanic Liaison Adriana Colino; local attorney and prominent Hispanic community activist Frank Sanchez; Hillsboro County Commissioner Rhonda Storms, and Hillsboro County Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson.

In Kissimmee, where Aponte cut the ribbon at the campaign's new Florida state headquarters, a series of tents kept the afternoon rain off the crowd of over 100 who gathered to cheer rally speakers including State Senator Gary Siplin; Parent Leadership Council President Evelyn Rivera; and former State Representative Tony Suarez. The state headquarters will house six full time employees who oversee the campaign's activities statewide.

The expansion into Jacksonville, Tampa, and the opening of the new state headquarters in Kissimmee marks an evolution in strategic approach for the campaign. The initial areas in which the campaign launched -- New York City, Miami, Philadelphia and Chicago -- were primarily urban, with Puerto Rican populations highly concentrated in smaller geographic areas. Having made a great impact in those areas during the first year, the campaign is expanding to more suburban areas with a smaller Puerto Rican population such as Buffalo and Rochester, New York; Wilmington, Delaware; Jacksonville and Tampa in central and western Florida; Lancaster and Allentown in southern Pennsylvania; Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Northwest Indiana.

Puerto Rico Governor Sila M. Calderon launched the non-partisan campaign "¡Que Nada Nos Detenga!" in July 2002 to empower Puerto Ricans and Hispanics across the nation by encouraging them to become civically engaged in their own communities. The voter registration and participation rates on the Island are 95 percent and 86 percent respectively, higher than any state in the nation. But when Puerto Ricans move to the mainland, both registration and participation rates drop to about 40 percent.

"Research conducted by us and by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) showed there are a number of factors accounting for this stunning drop," said Mari Carmen Aponte. "In some cases there are physical barriers such as language fluency, comparative complexity of the process or even outright discrimination. Often there are psychological barriers such as fear or lack of confidence about participating, as well as cynicism and a sense that voting does not make an impact on people's daily lives."

The voter registration campaign is helping to address the significant voting disparity and encourage the 1.7 million able Puerto Rican voters in the mainland United States to become engaged in the civic process. By focusing on the entire Puerto Rican community nationwide, Governor Calderon's Administration hopes to arouse Puerto Rican interests and build political leverage from increased voter participation. By providing Puerto Ricans and Hispanics with comprehensive information and educational assistance, the campaign enables voters to make the connection between voting and benefits in their communities, thus encouraging them to take action and actively participate in the public process.

As Republicans and Democrats alike target the ever-growing Hispanic vote, Puerto Ricans have the opportunity to play a dramatic role in this year's presidential and state elections. Residents will have the opportunity to decide a number of key upcoming local, state and national races in 2004.

The campaign's success can be seen in exit poll data made available following the 2002 elections where polls showed a 70 percent increase in turnout among first-time Puerto Rican voters. In addition, 87 percent of Puerto Ricans surveyed in 2002 said they were aware of the voter registration campaign and 54 percent said they were motivated to vote because the campaign drew a clear link between voting and benefits for their community. Since the campaign's launch in July 2002, major voter registration rally events have been held in New York, New Jersey, Florida and Pennsylvania -- all states with large Puerto Rican populations.

The campaign theme, "¡Que Nada Nos Detenga!," speaks directly to the Puerto Rican spirit of determination and hope for a better future, to encourage them to increase their participation in the democratic process, thereby positively impacting their communities both on the mainland United States and on the Island. Governor Calderon's campaign combines grass-roots community outreach efforts with an aggressive, multi-faceted communications campaign reaching Puerto Rican neighborhoods across the nation.

Mari Carmen Aponte, a member of Governor Calderon's cabinet and the Government of Puerto Rico's highest ranking official based on the mainland, discussed the progress of the aggressive program. "Our regional offices have worked hard to reach out to unregistered Puerto Ricans by forming partnerships with small businesses and community-based organizations. Here in Florida our voter registration staff will work to build relationships at the local level," she said.

"Many of these communities represent swing votes that could potentially decide elections across the nation. It is essential that we begin to recognize the value of this resource and utilize it to make a difference," Aponte added. According to the 2000 census, the mainland Puerto Rican population has grown to 3.4 million, a 28.5 percent jump in the last ten years alone. In addition, Puerto Ricans now reside in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. "This is all about enfranchising our people to effect change throughout the nation," she said.

Puerto Rican communities are located in politically strategic areas and can become deciding votes in many states during future elections. In the 1992 Presidential election, 100 electoral votes were decided by a difference of less than two percent of the votes.

The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, which serves as the mainland offices of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, operates 12 regional community outreach offices in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Hartford, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Newark, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Springfield, Mass. and is headquartered in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit

Web site:

CONTACT: Celeste Diaz Ferraro, +1-202-271-7263,, orMaite Rivera, +1-202-271-7272,, both of the Puerto RicoFederal Affairs Administration

Massive Registration Drive Under Way National Effort Comes To Jacksonville To Boost Participation In Elections.

DAVID DECAMP, The Times-Union

May 13, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

The Florida Times-Union

Richard Mathews is a wanted man. He is a new, undecided Florida voter and Hispanic.

In short, the 28-year-old Jacksonville resident is a prime catch in an election year.

Mathews registered at the kickoff Wednesday of what's billed as the nation's largest Hispanic voter sign-up drive by the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. Puerto Ricans living in mainland America turn out for presidential elections at a 40 percent clip, lower than the national average of about 50 percent, the administration said.

After being registered in Puerto Rico but not participating in the last presidential election, Mathews said, "I want to participate in the presidential campaign."

The drive, which began in 2002, has registered 225,000 people toward its 300,000 goal, officials said. At least 30,000 Floridians have registered with a statewide goal of 55,000, said Mari Carmen Aponte, the administration executive director.

"We wanted to make sure we reach all of the Puerto Ricans and all of the Hispanics," said Aponte, noting the program has gone from nine to 31 markets. "And what we do is, we look at the numbers in the census. . . . Our drive has evolved. We have become more targeted."

The effort takes place when politicians of both parties are running their own drives to land Hispanic voters, a growing segment of voters who often are unwedded to either party. Florida, a large, competitive election state, has been particularly targeted. Organizers are trying to increase turnout among Hispanics, particularly Puerto Ricans, who make up the biggest share of Jacksonville's Latino population.

While Orlando and South Florida have much larger voting blocs, Jacksonville's fractional Hispanic population still was noted in a state where relatively few votes sway elections. The area has close to 20,000 people from Puerto Rico, perhaps 30 to 40 percent of its Latino residents, organizers said.

Florida's U.S. Senate race only adds to the interest, because two Hispanics are running. Democrat Alex Penelas and Republican Mel Martinez are Cuba natives. Aponte said Latino voters identify with Hispanic candidates, encouraging those voters to become more involved in elections. Mathews said the two candidates caught his attention.

"For me, it doesn't matter," Mathews said of their roots. "They have to offer a good program, and I will decide which one [of all candidates] is the best."

The area program coordinator, Victor Cora, said the local effort will involve a "massive outreach" through events and community organizations, eventually reaching into surrounding counties.

Jacksonville resident Dondy Vane-Cooney, 46, also registered to vote, saying she leans toward President Bush, though she is not certain. The Panama native said she was drawn to the program by a friend and by a desire to be counted.

"I don't like to throw my vote away, and felt like I was not being quite as informed as to what was going on," she said.


For more information on registering to vote, call a supervisor of elections office.

-- Baker County: (904) 259-6339 -- Clay County: (904) 269-6350 -- Duval County: (904) 630-1410 -- Nassau County: (904) 491-7500 -- Putnam County: (386) 329-0223 -- St. Johns County: (904) 823-2238

Hispanic Vote Could Be Key Area Puerto Ricans Are A Wild Card As A Huge Voter-Registration Drive Was Launched In Osceola.

Willoughby Mariano, Sentinel Staff Writer

May 14, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

KISSIMMEE -- Along with booming salsa tunes and steaming plates of Puerto Rican delicacies, leaders of a massive voter-registration effort served notice Thursday that Hispanics will be a major force in the upcoming presidential election.

"If we think about it, the last election was won right here with 537 votes," said Mari Carmen Aponte, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.

Aponte was referring to Republican George W. Bush's wafer-thin margin in Florida over Democrat Al Gore in 2000 that landed him in the White House. She said the November race between Bush and John Kerry, the Democrats' presumptive nominee, could hinge on Hispanic turnout.

"Hey, we've registered 37,000. You can call that Boricua swing," Aponte said, using a term some Puerto Ricans prefer to call themselves.

With those words, the administration opened the state's new headquarters for a nationwide, two-year, $12 million voter-registration drive dubbed "!Que Nada Nos Detenga!" ("Let Nothing Stop Us") targeted at Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics. The registration drive already has netted 225,000 new voters nationwide, including the 37,000 in Florida. The local headquarters will coordinate roughly 100 field workers across Florida.

Thursday's rally took place in the heart of the Interstate 4 corridor, where pollsters think the state's 27 electoral votes will be won or lost. Osceola County is also the epicenter of Florida's Puerto Rican population, a growing chunk of the highly sought-after Hispanic vote. Since 1990, the number of Puerto Ricans in Florida has doubled to 650,000, with most of that growth centered in Central Florida, according to agency and census numbers.

Unlike Cuban-Americans, whose loyalties have allied them with President Bush and his brother Gov. Jeb Bush, Puerto Ricans are a wild card in the upcoming presidential election.

"Cubans have lived long enough in South Florida that they are well-involved in the political process. They came here a long, long time ago," said Nancy Acevedo, chairwoman of the Central Florida chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. "We are learning that process here in Central Florida now."

There are signs at the voter-registration headquarters that education is under way. A life-sized picture of Puerto Rican Gov. Sila Calderon hangs on the wall among maps of Orlando voting districts and area Puerto Rican demographics.

Politicians on hand for the rally ticked off what they have done for the Puerto Rican community and emphasized the importance of their vote. Puerto Rican administration officials are betting on fellow islanders' untapped potential. While they vote heavily on the island, where turnout is generally more than 80 percent, far fewer living on the mainland bother to vote, according to the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.

"Democracy is not a spectator sport in Puerto Rico," said Celeste Diaz, an administration spokeswoman.

Stateside, however, voter turnout has historically trailed those of non-Hispanic whites. Only 63 percent of registered Hispanics in Orange and Osceola cast ballots in the 2000 presidential election, according to county tallies. Nationwide, only 33 percent of mainland Puerto Ricans turn out to vote, Aponte said.

A language barrier, more complex stateside voting procedures and discrimination have been hurdles to Puerto Rican participation. In 2000, Spanish-speaking voters complained that Osceola poll workers discouraged them from voting by requiring they speak English and asking them to show green cards.

With higher rates of Puerto Rican and Hispanic turnout, this will change, said Evelyn Rivera, an Orange County Democrat originally from Puerto Rico who is chairwoman of the Puerto Rican Democratic Caucus. The power will translate into more Hispanic politicians who understand that the ethnic group is more than its festive stereotype, she said.

"I hate when politicians come around every, say, three or four years and have a party and speak a few words of Spanish and ask for our vote," Rivera said. "We love parties, but we're more than that."

At the rally, Olga B. Benitez Viera, 64, of Kissimmee signed her voter-registration card and said she wants to see more Puerto Ricans in area politics. Through the years, Benitez Viera has moved back to Puerto Rico several times but said she is always lured back to the mainland by the better lifestyle and opportunity here.

She vowed to cast a ballot at every election.

"It's important for Hispanic people to vote," she said. "That way, we can have more power."

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