MIAMI – Florida’s Puerto Rican community, which has grown to more than 1 million people and could soon supplant Cubans as the largest Hispanic voting bloc in that southeastern state, may play a decisive role in a closely contested race on Nov. 8.
“We’re reaching the point in which there will be more Puerto Ricans voting in Florida than Cubans, and that’s going to change how the Latino vote in Florida is interpreted,” Esteban Garces, president of Mi Familia Vota, a non-profit organization that seeks to increase civic participation within Latino and immigrant communities, told EFE.
Hispanics, who accounted for at least 15 percent of registered voters in that state through Aug. 1, had mostly been of Cuban origin until recently and thus heavily Republican.
But that situation has changed due to a large influx of Puerto Ricans and Latin American immigrants.
He said that more than 40 percent of the Latino vote was Cuban before but that that proportion had fallen to 32 percent, while Puerto Rico’s share of the total has risen to 27 percent.
“It’s a different Florida now,” Garces said.
The Cuban community has become less conservative due to new generations born in the United States and also recent waves of immigrants from the Communist-ruled island.
Puerto Ricans, meanwhile, are altering the electoral landscape of Central Florida, a region that has traditionally been politically volatile.
A large majority of the Hispanics whom MFV has signed up to vote in that region, including between 15,000 and 17,000 Puerto Ricans, registered as Democrats and therefore could help Hillary Clinton capture the state’s 29 electoral votes.
The second-largest group identified as independents, while the third-biggest registered as Republicans.
Large numbers of Puerto Ricans have left the island since 2005 due to its severe economic crisis, most of whom have settled in Florida.
As American citizens, they can register to vote the first day they arrive and also can cast a ballot for president.
Those living on the island, which is a U.S. commonwealth, can participate in the presidential primary process but cannot cast votes in the presidential election in November.
“We have 6,000 Puerto Ricans leaving the island each month, and the majority of them come here,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois who is of Puerto Rican descent, said during a recent visit to Florida.