NewFM Steps Up Voter Registration Efforts as Puerto Ricans fleeing Hurricane Maria begin to Arrive in Florida

Author:  Jessica Garrett Modkins
Miami, Fl - As American citizens arrive in Florida from Puerto Rico, a number of grassroots groups are reaching out to ensure that they have information they need to access the necessary resources to recover from the devastation left by Hurricane Maria.

For advocacy organizations like New Florida Majority, that information includes knowing how to access political process and registering to vote.

"We are unapologetic in standing up for democracy and the right to vote," said NewFM Executive Director Andrea Mercado. "We want to make sure that every citizen who lives in the Sunshine state has the ability to access the rights as laid out by our state and federal laws."

Puerto Rican political parties are mostly centered around the territorial status issue and don't necessarily align with the mainland Democrat and Republican labels. In Central Florida, where many recent Puerto Rican arrivals have settled, this has meant an influx of people registering as Non-Party Affiliated (NPA) voters, if they are choosing a party at all.

Mercado admits that the effort is a sensitive subject and that the first priority is making sure that recent arrivals are connected to social service and community-based CBOs that are helping to provide immediate assistance to displaced resident.  What's also important, says Mercado, is that Puerto Ricans moving to Florida who want to get more involved, get the opportunity to have an impact on those policies that directly affect loved ones that are still recovering on the island.

"Voting, political party affiliation -- these are all personal choices that people have to determine on their own," said Mercado. "What we want to do is make sure that those who are coming have access to all that comes with their American citizenship, including having a say with how elected officials here carry out recovery over there."

Florida Governor Rick Scott on Monday declared a state of emergency in all 67 counties to help local officials who are handling the influx of those coming from the U.S. territory.