The road to the White House always goes through central Florida's I-4 corridor, or to be more specific, Kissimmee. And to be even more specific, the Melao Bakery on Boggy Creek Road.
The bakery, a popular dining destination for Osceola County's growing Puerto Rican population, is where the Hispanic Federation has set up shop for weeks as it registers new voters for the 2016 presidential election. With an extra week to sign up voters because of a federal judge's intervention, workers were posted outside the restaurant all weekend. The deadline to register to vote is 5 p.m. Tuesday.
"There's a lot of Puerto Ricans around here and they want to vote this year," said Wilfredo Ramirez, who took time off from his job as a park ranger in San Juan to make extra money as a voter registration worker. His 28-year-old son Wilfredo, a police officer, was doing the same work at a nearby tax collector's office in Kissimmee. The father and son have been in Florida for nearly three months.
"Se puede votar?" (Can you vote?) they call out to strangers entering the bakery at lunchtime. In an era when social media increasingly dominates politics, this voter registration drive is decidedly low-tech, with clipboards and ball point pens. Jacqueline Lopez of Orlando, pictured at right above, was busy signing up new voters at the bakery on Friday, including Isaias Garcia, 33, a painter. Also registering was Heriberto Luciano, 42, of Davenport in Polk County, a server at a nearby Disney hotel, the Swan and Dolphin Resort, who has lived in central Florida since 2001 but has not been a voter until now.
"We need a change," Luciano said. He said his wife goaded him into registering. As a no-party-affiliation voter, Luciano declined to reveal how he'll vote, other than to say "I'm still thinking about it."
An analysis by USA Today concluded that the increase in Hispanic voter registration mirrors population growth, and that there has not been a major surge in response to Donald Trump's intense anti-immigrant rhetoric. The newspaper reported that the increase in Florida was among the largest of all 10 states it analyzed.