A Republican U.S. congressional candidate is facing backlash after a video surfaced of him saying displaced Puerto Ricans shouldn’t be allowed to vote in Florida.
Ward was asked for his response to Puerto Ricans who have recently moved to Florida both temporarily and permanently since Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September 2017 and have requested more help.
In response, Ward said, “First of all, I don’t think they should be allowed to register to vote.”
“It’s not lost on me that I think the Democrat Party is really hoping that they can change the voting registers in a lot of counties and districts, and I don’t think they should be allowed to do that,” Ward said at the Mount Dora Republican Club forum.
“We should be looking to put the Puerto Ricans back in their homes,” he continued. “So the idea that they can come to the mainland United States -- I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, but I think we should be thinking about it in terms of getting them back home and providing the capital and resources to rebuild Puerto Rico, which I honestly think is where they belong.”
Ward’s comments were made at an April event, but his opponent, former state Rep. Fred Costello, only recently published them to YouTube.
Ward clarified his remarks to the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday, saying he was talking about Puerto Ricans who are only temporarily in the state -- not ones who are seeking refuge in Florida on a more permanent basis.
“Puerto Ricans are American citizens, and if they’re going to be permanently living here in Florida, of course they can register and be welcomed into the community,” he said.
But still, Ward is facing fallout from the video.
State Rep. Bob Cortes, a Republican, announced his endorsement of Costello on Tuesday, saying, “Sadly, his primary opponent has made it clear he does not believe Puerto Ricans should be allowed to exercise their rights as American citizens.”
“This is an outrage,” Cortes said. “No candidate for office in this great country should be so woefully ignorant of the Constitution and the rights it protects for American citizens. Electing a candidate like that is dangerous and would be a disservice, not just to the Puerto Rican Americans he would disenfranchise, but to all freedom-loving Americans.”
In Florida, all citizens who live in the state are allowed to vote, per the Division of Elections rules, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported. University of Florida economists estimated about 50,000 Puerto Ricans had come to Florida by December, the Orlando Sentinel previously reported.
During the forum, Costello said he understood Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida to provide for their families “and if they want individual liberty and personal responsibility and equal opportunity, we the Republican Party need to show them why we’re the party that they need to gravitate to.”
Ward and Costello, along with veteran Michael Waltz, are battling for the GOP primary for Florida’s 6th congressional district to replace Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Republican running for governor.
Ward is a Navy veteran who served as part of Operation Desert Storm, according to his campaign website. Following his service, he became a businessman and investor, his website states.