Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill and other state leaders recently announced a voter registration drive for Puerto Rican families who were uprooted by Hurricane Maria and have since resettled in Connecticut.
“My office stands ready to help these families join in the civic life of their new communities by registering them to vote,” Merrill said. “U.S. citizens do not lose their right to vote just because they lost their homes to a devastating natural disaster.”
Merrill joined the Chair of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus Rep. Chris Rosario, Rep. Hilda Santiago, other legislators and community groups to announce a program that will help register Puerto Ricans now living in Connecticut by identifying and registering eligible voters, according to a press release from Merrill’s office.
Sofia Nieto, the Events Coordinator for the University of Connecticut’s Puerto Rican Student Association, said she supports this initiative as national and state-wide policy decisions directly impact Puerto Ricans.
“The decisions of the president and the legislators do affect Puerto Rico, and especially after Hurricane Maria, more Puerto Ricans should participate in elections,” Nieto said. “It will make (Puerto Ricans) feel as if they actually had a voice and an opinion that could potentially make a difference.”
She said she thinks this may help change people’s perspective on Puerto Rico.
“I believe … this is definitely an impact on society to view Puerto Rico as something more than a vacation destination,” Nieto said. “We are citizens of the U.S. and we have been for a long time. It is our right to vote and while I do agree this is a great initiative, more has to be done to change how people view Puerto Rico.”
Nieto said the first time she voted for the president was when she was on campus for the 2016 election and that I helped her understand the importance of exercising her right to vote.
Nieto said she thinks Puerto Rico should have permanent representation in the U.S. government. Because Puerto Rico does not have statehood status, it does not have representatives in Congress and cannot vote for the president because they do not have Electoral College delegates either.
“As a U.S. territory and as a minority group, our best interest is most of the times overlooked,” Nieto said.
Nieto said the fact that Puerto Rico currently does not have a voice in the legislature or in presidential elections evidences the attitude that Puerto Ricans are not considered equal citizens.
“The fact that we don’t have a permanent representation in the government shows a lack of concern and inclusion by the U.S. (government),” Nieto said. “We are citizens and I believe it is about time we receive the same rights.”