By Evelyn Perez-Verdia
There are more than a million and a half Hispanics registered to vote in Florida, accounting for 14% of the total registered voters. However, this figure is likely low because there are many cases in which a person does not self-identify as a Hispanic. I am a perfect example of this phenomenon. Legally, I am not required to identify myself as Hispanic when registering to vote. Taking into account the many people that might not identify as Hispanic for whatever reason, surely the number of voters rises to 16% or higher.
It is a fact that many of our elections are decided by a margin of 10% or less, making the Hispanic vote important enough to see it as a ‘sleeping giant’. This population is a giant, being that it holds the power to sway an election, such as the upcoming Primary and General elections in fall 2014, when we will choose the next Florida Governor.
Should the Hispanic voters continue sleeping through these important moments? What are we, as Hispanics doing in light of this reality? Are we doing nothing at all, or perhaps we are only registering to vote because of the discount on our property taxes? This is precisely what many of you are doing. And this pleases the many people that do not want us to become citizens. If we do become citizens, then they would revel in the fact we might choose not to participate in the process and marginalize ourselves. Or perhaps, they might realize many of us might vote without knowing any of the candidates well, or without having any real reasons to vote for them. But the reasons are critical. These candidates will be the ones representing you, making laws that impact everything from your childrens’ education to the amount of taxes you will be paying. They will be those making decisions impacting the businesses that are at the heart of our economy, and the institutions that are crucial to our health care system. They will be voting on our immigrations laws…they will decide everything!
While some would like to dissuade you from voting and say that you’re simply a drop of water in an ocean of people, that’s simply not true. Wake up to the reality that you have the strength to unite with many around you until eventually becoming a sea of change! Those who prefer you to stay outside of the system would prefer you to not understand how the government functions. It is better for some this way, because then they do not need to feel accountable to you.
Many advisors to politicians analyze how strong the Hispanic vote is in their area before deciding whether or not to support the laws that the community are passionate about. The fewer the Hispanic votes, the easier it is for many political strategists and directors to ignore these issues. Many times, the lack of a large vote from the Hispanic community means that there is little investment in Hispanic media, making awareness of the campaigns even less than the usual.
So what do you need to remember when it comes to voting. You need to officially become a citizen to be able to vote. If you are not registered to vote, then you should begin to pay attention to the political campaigns early in the process and register as soon as possible. In Florida you must be registered 29 days before an election.
2014 is an important year for our local government and soon enough it will be 2016 and time to decide who will be our next President. Will you be studying the difference between the parties or simply thinking that a certain party represents a certain ethnic or racial group? Will you wait for the last minute to register? Will you be an informed voter knowing who your representatives are and what their voting records are? Will you remember that your representatives are there to help you, free of charge, and that they are seeking to communicate with you around election time? Will you realize that they are accountable to you when they are as accessible to you via internet, just like Shakira or Pitbull?
Will you take this opportunity to vote and get involved, to become a part of the system and thus let the leaders know that you will not be silenced or put off to one side? Democracy has no boundaries and is not limited to simple political parties. Hispanics, wake up from the deep sleep you have been in and use the power you have. You can change the history of this country.
If you are a citizen and you dare to vote but do not want to wait until the last minute to become a registered voter, click here to find the information, by county, for each supervisor of elections in Florida: