The Miami Herald
Mon, May. 17, 2004
Expatriates make most of first chance to vote

South Florida Dominicans lined up to choose a new president in their homeland and cheered their newfound right to vote.


Dominicans from Europe to South America cast their ballots for president Sunday, the first time expatriates were allowed to vote in the Caribbean nation's history.

The balloting at Miami's Juan Pablo Duarte Park in Alapattah went smoothly, though lines were long and some who came to vote were turned away because they were not properly registered.

The mood was festive, for the most part, as Dominicans in Miami cheered their newfound ability to vote. Cars drove by honking their horns. Vendors sold hundreds of hot dogs, empanadas, and cornmeal cachapas.

Dominicans also went to the polls in New York, Montreal, San Juan, Caracas, Madrid and Barcelona.

''This is an important moment in our history, that Dominicans can exercise their rights to vote,'' said Manuel Cruz, 41, a butler from West Palm Beach, moments after he cast his ballot.

Cruz says he sends $450 to his two children in the Dominican Republic every month. ``Finally they are taking into consideration the role Dominican immigrants have, especially in the economy of the country.''

The hourlong lines didn't keep Luz López, 52, away. She leaned against a fence and waited to be called forward.

''I would have preferred a faster process, but it's worth it,'' said López, a bank employee from Pembroke Pines.

The election pits ex-President Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) against Hipólito Mejía, the incumbent from the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD).

There are a million Dominicans living in the United States including 112,000 in Florida, according to the 2002 U.S. census.

Only a tiny percentage are registered to vote: 2,942 were registered in Florida and 52,400 registered in the United States, Spain, Venezuela and Canada.

Election officials blame the low number of voters on problems issuing cédulas, identity cards that are required to cast ballots.

At the polls Sunday, several were told they could not vote.

''I should be allowed to vote. It is my right,'' shouted Stephanie Alvarez, 18, who was told she could not vote because she only carried a temporary paper cédula, not the regular plastic card.

The polling supervisor, Félix José Suriel, explained why Alvarez was turned away: ``It's the law. Would you let somebody on an airplane without a passport?''