New York is shaping up to become a swing state in this year’s presidential election — not in the presidential election between Barack Obama and the all-but-confirmed Republican nominee Mitt Romney, but the one in the Dominican Republic. Thanks to a law passed in 1997, expatriate Dominicans no longer have to fly to the country’s capital of Santo Domingo to vote in presidential elections. Dominicans voted locally for the first time in 2004 and tens of thousands of Dominican expatriates registered to vote for the 2012 contest – making New York one of the island nation’s most important constituencies in the neck-and-neck election scheduled for May 20. “This quantity of voters is decisive,” said Víctor Sepúlveda, the international coordinator for the leftwing Partido Revolucionario Dominicano. “They can decide the elections.”
The power of the Dominican expatriate vote owes largely to efforts by the Dominican Central Election Board, or JCE, to boost voter registration in recent years. On Feb. 5, the Board reported that it had registered 328,649 Dominicans living abroad in countries such as the U.S., Canada, Spain and Italy—about 5 percent of the total pool of 6.5 million registered voters, according to the JCE.
The number of Dominican residents of New York City registered to vote has almost doubled over the last four years, from 55,989 in 2008 to over 103,000 today. And in just two months, civic activists like Félix Cruz added over 20,000 more expatriates to the rolls.