Latino communities, especially Puerto Ricans, are registering to vote in Florida for this year’s general election amid the pandemic.
The increase in the Hispanic population of Florida is reflected in voter registration numbers, said Bill Cowles, Orange County supervisor of elections.
As of February 2020, there were 2,320,811 Hispanic voters registered in Florida. That’s a difference of 296,961 compared to the 2,023,850 Hispanic voters who registered in 2016.
“The growth of this community is definitely attributed to those who moved here from Puerto Rico, either after the hurricane or after the recent earthquake issues,” Cowles told The Americano.
Many Puerto Ricans completed their voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) when they went to get their driver’s license, Cowles said. Federal law has established that the DMV has to offer citizens the option of registering to vote.
“Over 50% of all our new voter registration comes from the driver’s license office. Naturally, you want your Florida driver’s license or Florida ID, and you also register to vote. That causes us to get a huge increase [in voter registration],” Cowles explained.
The pandemic has altered the registration process, and yet several options are available. Cowles says this year more people have requested the vote-by-mail option, citing safety concerns over the COVID pandemic.
“We all are seeing more people preferring to vote at home, sending their vote by mail rather than going to a physical location to vote in person. We are still getting lots of calls every day requesting vote-by-mail ballots,” Cowles said.
The deadline for registering to vote in the upcoming elections is October 5. The general election will be on November 3.
Here are the different options available for voter registration and affiliation:
- To vote, you must be a United States citizen of at least 18 years of age in possession of your civil rights.
- Convicted felons and individuals declared mentally incompetent cannot vote.
- Voter registration can be done by mail, in person at election offices or the DMV, or online at www.registertovoteflorida.gov.
- Voter registration forms are also available in public libraries and public assistance offices.
3 Ways to Vote
- By mail: Ballots should be requested by mail, phone, or fax. The ballot request is valid for up to two general election cycles. They can be mailed to colleges or the military. Voting by mail requires a signed affidavit.
- By early vote: Early voting begins 15 days before Election Day and ends three days before. Registered voters can vote early at any polling site in the county. Polling sites will be open for eight to 12 workdays during the early-voting period.
- Voting on Election Day at polling sites: The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters should go to their assigned polling location.
Cowles explained that many Puerto Rican voters have registered without affiliating with a political party.
“I believe [Puerto Ricans not affiliating with a party] has a lot to do with the fact they don’t understand the floor of the United States’ two major political parties. They are different from what it is on the island,” the supervisor said.
That being said, Florida also has seven minor political parties: Constitution Party of Florida, Ecology Party of Florida, Green Party of Florida, Independent Party of Florida, Libertarian Party of Florida, Party for Socialism and Liberation—Florida, and Reform Party of Florida.
Cowles said he believes that many people in Latino communities lack an understanding of the various government positions that are being voted on in elections.
“They are not used to the many layers of government here, in comparison to Puerto Rico,” he said.
Affiliation is not mandatory and 30% of voters in Orange County are registered without affiliation, he said.
To avoid confusion when deciding on political party affiliation, Cowles recommends examining the ballot at home and affiliating if a voter’s preferences align with any particular party platform.
He added that there is a particular dynamic taking place in multigenerational homes, where younger family members are explaining the voting system to their grandparents.
How to Affiliate With a Political Party
- Fill out the Voter Registration Application online.
- If you prefer to register to vote without affiliating with a political party, select “No party affiliation.”
- Party affiliation changes may be made at any time by completing a Voter Registration Application and selecting “Record Update/Change,” or by sending the elections supervisor a signed written notice containing the voter’s date of birth or voter registration number.
- State law requires party-affiliation changes to be made at least 29 days prior to a partisan primary election, in order for the change to be valid in that election.