The Hispanic Vote is Key: North Florida’s New Hispanic Voter Task Force
(Originally published in Spanish and English in Eco Latino Magazine)
Late in the afternoon in mid January, a mixture of Spanish and English could be heard along with the rhythm of Puerto Rican folk music outside the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce office inside the Jacksonville landing. Inside this office was some of the most prominent members of the Hispanic community in North Florida. Dressed in crisp business attire, they talked exuberantly about Latino political issues. This was the first voter drive held by a new coalition of Hispanics who are aiming to register thousands of new voters in North Florida this year.
The outcome of the next presidential election could be decided based on the number of Hispanics who decide to vote. It is undeniable that the Hispanic vote means that Latinos have more power than ever before in having a say in American politics.
In February of 2016 the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights organization, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) began a joint national effort to register Hispanic voters, especially younger Hispanic voters. As the Hispanic population continues to grow in the United States, so does the amount of young Hispanics who turn 18 and become eligible to vote each month. Outreach to these new potential voters is key to the NCLR’s plan to mobilize and organize the Hispanic vote as the power of Hispanics in American politics continues to grow with each Presidential election.
Many political experts have noted that if not for the Hispanic vote, Mitt Romney may have won the presidential election in 2012. Romney only received 17% of the Hispanic vote, and that did make a difference. Both parties need to capture the attention of Hispanic voters and candidates are taking note of that in this election cycle.
There are new, key efforts being made to organize and mobilize Hispanic voters in 2016. These efforts are especially important in battleground swing states such as Florida where there is a large Hispanic population.
The Hispanic vote in Florida could decide the next Presidential election, this is an argument made by many active in Hispanic politics.
In Florida it was a subject of particular discussion as the Democratic Hispanic Caucus gathered for their annual gala in September of last year. The power of the Florida Hispanic vote in 2016 was something echoed by everyone in attendance there such as the President of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida Vivian Rodriguez and Florida politicians such as Congressman Alan Grayson who saw the difference the Hispanic vote made first hand in his district in Orlando. Grayson is one Florida politician taking note of the Hispanic vote as he runs for Senate this year.
Partisanship aside, there are members of the Hispanic community in North Florida both Republican and Democrat who began meeting last year to focus on uniting the Hispanic community in the area. Their aim was to get the Hispanic community united in an effort to get more involved in the political process.
The result has been the formation of a new task force composed of leaders in the North Florida Hispanic community focused on specific goals they came up with to address this issue. A key part of their strategy is focused around voter registration and mobilization efforts in 2016.
Their first event was hosted by Nancy Quinones and the Puerto Riccan Chamber of Commerce in January. There are several events planned throughout the year in various places throughout the city. The registration process will be easier for Hispanics who wish to do so by the presence of members from the task force and the Supervisor of Elections office.
The task force formed in July of last year as a coalition of groups from the North Florida Hispanic community. The group includes members from the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the mayor’s Hispanic-American advisory board, Northeast Florida Hispanic Medical Association and the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic leadership network H.I.L.L.
A leader on the nonpartisan task force is Leon Carrero, an environmental geologist who has been active within the Hispanic community in Northeast Florida for more than 15 years. He says the group formed in July when a group of community leaders decided to act on what they see as a lack of representation by Hispanics in city politics. “As the Hispanic community grows in Jacksonville there are issues that come up. One of the things we are trying to understand and focus on is the political aspect of Hispanics. Registration to vote is a big deal as well as future participation and involvement in the process,” he said.
The two main questions they asked themselves were what did they need to do in terms of voter registration and what did they need to do to develop a strategy to identify and encourage promising Hispanics to run for public office. In December they came up a plan for voter registration and this year they are putting that plan into action. Carrero expressed that they also want to mobilize the Hispanic vote after they get them registered. Their aim is to get the low percentage of Hispanics who vote in elections up from %16 which was the number who voted in last year’s Duval County Mayoral election.
The aim is to register an additional 8,000 Hispanic voters to the 22,000 that are already registered by the November election and as many as possible by the March primaries. “They have come up with three objectives, voter registration being one,” stated Wilfredo Gonzalez and this is something that is essential right now as he explained many Hispanics are migrating to this area because Jacksonville is a good place to raise a family and there are more opportunities in North Florida in terms of more affordable housing and jobs.
There are around 100,000 Hispanics in Jacksonville and the surrounding areas and there are new communities forming which is creating new Hispanic neighborhoods. Gonzalez expressed that there are two areas forming that will become a “barrio” and that will translate into an easier way for the Hispanic community to form their presence in North Florida, both socially and politically. This new growth of Hispanics means that they will require increasing representation in city politics and that is something the leaders in the community who formed the task force see as essential.
The fact that the Hispanic vote continues to become increasingly powerful in elections, especially presidential elections is something that the task force fully understands. The facts continue to support that Hispanics have the power to sway the election due to several factors, and this is especially true in states like Florida. Task force advisor Wilfredo Gonzalez says the coalition is very aware of the impact the Hispanic vote could have. “Having primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire — I mean, how many minorities do you see in that area? So that’s why I don’t get as excited as people do when they talk about what’s happening up there. I mean, wait until they come down here,” he says.
Hispanics have yet to define their voting behavior as inclined towards a specific party but there are several issues that are central to Hispanics decision when they go to the voting booth. Nancy Quinones said these were jobs, the economy and education. Quinones works with all sorts of members of the Hispanic community in Jacksonville and said in her experience there were fundamental things lacking to support Hispanic students in the education system here and also a lack of support to aid Hispanics in the job process. These were things her organization have undertaken instead and she sees the vote as their best chance at changing the current situation for Hispanics here.
As the 2016 Presidential election looms the candidates will look to Florida- and Florida Hispanics as a powerful group of voters who could make the ultimate difference between victory and defeat. Thus, the new task force’s efforts have begun at the perfect time and it is important to note the vast potential that their efforts have to make an impact for Hispanics both locally and on a greater scale.