Fewer Puerto Ricans than expected register to vote in Florida so far - Orlando Sentinel

Fewer Puerto Ricans than expected register to vote in Florida so far – Orlando Sentinel

When Iralisse Huertas-Agosto visited friends in Orlando from Puerto Rico last October, at the height of the 2016 presidential election, she was shocked to hear they didn’t plan to vote.

“They said it didn’t matter,” said Huertas-Agosto, 23. “To me, coming from the island, voting is really important and here they said, ‘Oh we don’t care.’ ”

Now living in Kissimmee with her mother and sister after their hometown in Puerto Rico, Vega Baja, was devastated by Hurricane Maria, one of the first things she did was to register herself and her mother to vote.

“Next election, we need to know everything, because we’re definitely voting here,” she said. “And if the rest of my family comes to live here, they will vote, too.”

With so many leaving Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck on Sept. 20, the influx of registered Florida voters from the island is expected to play a key role in this year’s election and beyond. But so far, the number of newly registered Hispanic voters in Central Florida is not the big number that many forecast.

Democrats make up less than 30 percent of new Hispanic voter registrations in Central Florida since the end of September, with about 8 percent registering as Republicans and the majority, 63 percent, registering as independents, like Huertas-Agosto and her mother.

As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans are able to register and vote immediately. As a group they’ve also historically identified as independent but voted Democratic, leading party leaders and political analysts to predict a major impact in Democrats’ favor in a closely divided state such as Florida, where Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by fewer than 120,000 votes.

Democratic political strategist Steve Schale warns that his party should not take it for granted that new residents from Puerto

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