Venezuelans send message and cast ballots

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wwltv.com

Posted on October 8, 2012 at 10:19 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 8 at 10:21 PM

Katie Moore / Eyewitness News
Email: kmoore@wwltv.com | Twitter: @katiecmoore

NEW ORLEANS -- This weekend, thousands of Venezuelans flocked to New Orleans for the chance to cast a ballot in their country's Presidential election.

Venezuelan leaders under current President Hugo Chavez closed the consulate in Miami earlier this year, forcing Venezuelans from several states to head to New Orleans to vote.

Would Americans do the same?

"This is amazing. There's a lot of people here. Wow," said one Venezuelan ex-pat who was standing outside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Sunday, waiting in a line that stretched down the front of the building.

“Turned out to be about 8,500 people, much more than we ever anticipated,” said Anselmo Rodriguez, the Regional Campaign Director for Chavez’s challenger, Enrique Capriles.

The closing of the Florida consulate forced thousands of Venezuelans to travel by bus and by air hundreds of miles just to vote.

“Think about how many us Americans, here in Louisiana, on the local election, have the opportunity to vote down the block and we say, oh, it's too inconvenient,” Rodriguez said.

Americans will wait hours in line to buy the latest technology and they'll travel for fun.

We asked some tourists in the French Quarter how far they traveled to get to New Orleans for a long weekend of fun.

“I'm from Washington, DC so that's about with the connecting flight, five hours or so,” Sasan Sharifi said.

“Eight hours,” said San Antonio resident Rebecca Hendrix.

Thousands of others traveled for miles to see the Saints play at the Superdome on Sunday as well.

But would they travel that far to vote? GCR and Associates' Greg Rigamer says no.

“We're not gonna have people traveling long distances to vote here,” Rigamer said.

When asked if they would travel hundreds of miles to vote, would they do it?

“If I had to pay my own way to get there, probably not, but if there's transportation provided, I'd probably do it,” Sharifi said.

At least he's honest.

“When you look at the proximity of the polling place, the security of the polling place, how easy we make it for people to vote, you would certainly think we'd get a higher turnout than we do,” Rigamer said.

Scenes like the one at the Convention Center with ex-pats waving flags and honking their horns made many Americans seem apathetic.

“We have freedom and democracy. It's something that we always need to take care of very dearly. It's very easy to lose,” Rodriguez said.

In Louisiana, turnout in the last presidential election was 67 percent of eligible voters. Nationwide, it was 64 percent. Compare that to Canada where turnout typically is 80 percent or more.

This Venezuelan election had a more than 70 percent turnout.

Ironically, the turnout for the last New Orleans mayoral election was just 32 percent, a race that could have a much greater impact on local voters’ lives.

 

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