Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Update -- Community News

Governor Calderón Announces Success of Nation’s Largest Nonpartisan Hispanic Voter Registration Campaign

Washington, DC--(HISPANIC PR WIRE)--September 7, 2004--On the steps of the Cannon House Office Building today, Sila M. Calderón, Governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, claimed victory for Puerto Rican and Hispanic communities nationwide as she announced that her government’s grassroots empowerment initiative met its goal of registering over 300,000 voters before this year’s general elections.

The nonpartisan education, registration and mobilization campaign, dubbed “¡Que Nada Nos Detenga!” or “Let Nothing Stop Us!”, was launched in July 2002 as an effort to empower the 642,000 Puerto Ricans across the nation who were eligible to vote in their local communities yet had not registered. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are approximately 3.5 million Puerto Ricans living in the states, 1.7 million of whom are of voting age.

“I am proud to announce that our nonpartisan voter registration effort has surpassed the goal of 300,000 voters nationwide,” said Governor Calderón. “This accomplishment is about more than just numbers, it’s about the empowerment of our people and the transformation of our communities.”

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, state and local elections. Many Puerto Rican communities are located in politically strategic areas and, because of the Puerto Rican electorate’s largely politically undecided stance, are expected to cast deciding votes in many upcoming elections. In the 1992 Presidential election, 100 electoral votes were decided by a difference of less than two percent of the votes; Puerto Ricans make up more than two percent of the population in as many as seven states nationwide.

“Many Puerto Rican communities represent swing votes that could potentially decide elections across the nation. The eyes of the nation are focused on the Presidential campaign and Puerto Ricans will be crucial in states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio,” said Mari Carmen Aponte, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) which launched and managed the campaign.

“We expect even greater impact as we mobilize Puerto Ricans to vote in local and state elections. We have educated our communities to understand that voting is the key to directing many issues which impact the quality of our everyday lives – such as school funding, police budgets, public works projects and zoning,” Aponte continued.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the mainland Puerto Rican population has grown to 3.5 million, a nearly 30 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 people to effect change throughout the nation,” said Calderón, “this campaign is about solidarity, pride and empowerment. We are mobilizing Puerto Ricans and raising awareness of their potential impact on issues that affect their local communities as well as the Island. All citizens play an important role in the political process and should have the information and the opportunities to help control how decisions are made that affect their daily lives.”

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 PRFAA and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) showed there are a number of factors accounting for this stunning drop,” said 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 embarrassment, 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 has overcome these barriers through an extensive grassroots network of field educators who have spent the last two years talking one-on-one with Puerto Rican community members about the process of voting, how government is structured and why an individual’s vote does have an impact. This approach differs from many other national registration efforts because it places greater emphasis on education and encourages civic involvement.

The campaign’s strategy proved extremely effective in the 2002 mid-term election year as demonstrated by exit poll data. Results showed a 70 percent increase in turnout over the 2000 Presidential election among first-time Puerto Rican voters and 34 percent increase over 2000 in overall turnout among Puerto Rican voters. In addition, 87 percent of Puerto Ricans surveyed in 2002 said they were aware of the voter registration campaign in their community 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, Illinois, Ohio 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 and encourages increased participation in the democratic process, thereby positively impacting communities both on the mainland United States and on the Island. Governor Calderón’s campaign combines grassroots community outreach efforts with an aggressive, multi-faceted communications campaign reaching Puerto Rican neighborhoods across the nation.

The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, which serves as the mainland offices of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, advocates for the social, economic and educational empowerment of Puerto Rican communities nationwide and operates 12 regional community outreach offices in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Hartford, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Newark, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Springfield, Mass. PRFAA is headquartered at 1100 17th Street, NW in Washington, D.C.

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