People blocked from voting urge others to get to the polls
ORLANDO, Fla. — Ivan Vazquez said he thinks of himself as American as much as Mexican, but in spite of spending more than half of his life in the United States, he can’t cast a ballot in U.S. elections.
“We complain a lot, the Republicans, the Democrats, but most people don’t take the time to learn about politics,” said the 28-year-old recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
He’s one of 50 million people who live in the U.S. and can’t vote — either because they’re too young, have a felony conviction or are not American citizens. But a nonprofit has allowed Vazquez and many others to raise their voices and tell their stories, so people who have the right to vote don’t take it for granted come November.
Vazquez said he signed up with The Love Vote after hearing friends say they believed voting “doesn’t make a difference.” The nonprofit seeks to convince voters otherwise by sharing the stories of people who can’t cast a ballot.
The organization is making its debut in Florida this year.
The movement: Through local nonprofits, The Love Vote has found “movers,” like Vazquez, who record a video testimony explaining why they can’t vote. The video is then shared on social media so friends and family can make a promise to vote in the movers’ honor.
Anyone who doesn’t qualify to vote can become a “mover,” said the nonprofit’s founder Esther de Rothschild. It’s as easy as filling out a profile online and recording a short video to share on social media.
“We’re like crowdfunding,” she said. “We’re crowdfunding but for voting.”
According to the website, the organization has collected more than 900 “Love Votes,” or people who have promised to hit the polls after watching a mover’s video. The group sends reminders to make sure those who’ve pledged to vote actually go to the polls, but it doesn’t push candidates or issues, de Rothschild said.
“The decision for who you vote for is your own,” she said.
When the video goes online, each mover sets a goal for the number of Love Votes they plan to collect. Vazquez hopes his story will get at least 100 people out to the polls in November.
He came to Central Florida when he was 13 years old, but it wasn’t until 10 years later that he secured a legal status through DACA, which allows him to defer his deportation every two years.
“Before it was more challenging,” he said of the years before he was granted legal status. “Only a few doors would open and eventually they’d shut down when people found out I didn’t have papers.”
Now, he’s attending Seminole State College and hopes to transfer to Florida International University in Miami to get a degree in dietetics and nutrition. Since becoming more politically active online in the last year he said he has found some people have misconceptions about DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers.
“I hope that by sharing my story, it impacts how people define the people in their communities,” Vazquez said.
Origin story: De Rothschild, a humanities and film teacher in New York, said the idea for The Love Vote emerged from a discussion with students in her classroom after the 2016 election.
“My students had been talking about the aftermath of the election and how frustrated they were because they didn’t have the opportunity to vote,” she said.
In less than a year, The Love Vote has been active in three states — New Jersey, Alabama and Kentucky — each time telling the stories of people in different demographics: teenagers under 18, convicted felons and non-U.S. citizens.
For the upcoming midterm, de Rothschild chose the Sunshine State.
“Florida was an obvious decision,” de Rothschild said. “You have teenagers, of course, and then a lot of immigrants with very different statuses, and Amendment 4 on the ballot.”
Amendment 4 will ask Floridians to decide whether convicted felons who’ve served their time should have their right to vote reinstated. If passed, the proposal would automatically give back the right to vote to 1.5 million Floridians who are currently ineligible.
Among them is Nina Abbas, a “mover” in Palm Coast. Convicted in 2010 for drug trafficking, she served her time in jail. Afterward, her probation was reduced from six years to only six months.
“I’ve done everything. I’ve paid my dues and I can’t vote. I don’t believe that’s right,” she said. “Prior to my conviction, I voted. I had a say in my community. I feel shut out now.”
Since her release, Abbas said she has kept steady jobs and obtained a master’s degree online. But since her voting rights were revoked, she hopes to make others value their participation.
“A lot of people don’t realize how much of a privilege it is to vote, to be served by politicians like you choose to,” she said.