The goal had always been clear: graduate high school and apply to college in the United States.
But voting in the U.S. never seemed to be a priority for Alexandra Rodriguez — until she realized its importance in the current presidential election.
Rodriguez was 18 years old when her dream of moving to the U.S. finally came true. She packed her bags and booked a one-way ticket from Puerto Rico to attend the University of Florida.
“I’m usually a pretty gutsy person,” she said. “I’ve usually always been independent, so transitioning wasn’t that bad. It was learning how to speak English 24/7. … You have to start thinking in English.”
A prideful Latina who loves to celebrate her culture, Rodriguez said she longed to integrate herself into an American lifestyle.
“It’s woke me up,” she said. “I was exposed to so many issues, [including] undocumented students. I didn’t know that was even the correct term for it.”
Rodriguez was featured in a recent WUFT article, in which she spoke out about the importance of voting, especially during this election season. She emphasized that she does not understand how some individuals choose not to vote when others, like her, wish to do so but aren’t able.
Rodriguez said she never imagined an article featuring such frustration would cause a former government official to reach out and make voting a possibility for her.
“So I got a call from Bob Graham [on Oct. 15], and he basically told me that he heard about the story and that he was really interested in helping me out,” she said.
Graham served as the 38th governor of Florida from 1979 to 1987 and as a U.S. senator for the state between 1987 and 2005.
“I contacted my daughter Gwen Graham’s office,” he said. “Gwen is in Congress — she represents the second congressional district, which is Tallahassee to Panama City — and has people who work on immigration-related issues. This was not an immigration issue as such, but I thought they might have run into something like this before — and in fact, they had.”
Bob Graham said that because Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, they don’t have to go through naturalization to be eligible to vote.
“They are eligible to vote wherever they live within the United States of the commonwealth,” he said.
Rodriguez lacked the paperwork to file for residency, which would enable her to vote. She said she thought she needed to live in the same place for at least two years, which has not occurred since she moved to the mainland.
Graham said the only challenge, however, was trying to get all the paperwork filled out in time before voter registration closed.
“What was pressing was time,” he said. “The registration period was extended a week because of Hurricane Matthew, but it was down to the last couple of days of that weeks’ extension.”
Gwen Graham’s secretary, Julia Gill Woodward, spoke directly with Rodriguez.
“I talked to her that Monday, [and] the deadline was that Tuesday,” Rodriguez said. “So that Monday, I went in, and I filled out the form.”
Now, at the age of 21, soon-to-be graduate Rodriguez exercised her right to vote for the first time Saturday during early voting.
“A person with her background, since she is a U.S. citizen, shouldn’t have that much difficulty getting registered to vote,” Bob Graham said. “I’m glad that she did.”
Rodriguez said she isn’t “the person that I was when I came to the University of Florida.”
“I know that it is my duty to vote,” she said. “It was a really good feeling.”