Comments about Puerto Rican voters stir election controversy
John Ward: 'I don't think they should be allowed to register to vote'
ORLANDO, Fla. – Controversial comments made by an Orlando-area Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives may have cost him an endorsement.
John Ward is running in the Republican primary for the seat that would represent portions of Lake, Volusia and Flagler counties.
In a video posted online by Republican rival Fred Costello, Ward is seen answering a voter's question at a political gathering on April 23 in Mount Dora.
"How do you respond to (Puerto Ricans) when they say they need more help and the aid to Puerto Rico is not enough?" the man asks.
"So, first of all, I don’t think they should be allowed to register to vote," Ward responds. "It’s not lost on me. I think the Democratic Party is really hoping that they can change the voter registers in a lot of counties and districts, and I don’t think they should be allowed to do that."
"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 in terms of getting them back home and providing the capital resources to rebuild Puerto Rico, which I honestly think is where they belong."
Ward's comments drew a quick response from a woman in the audience who said she was Puerto Rican in the audience.
"You tell me to come here and not be able to vote as an American citizen? We have to talk," she said.
Ward's comments were the reason Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes said he endorsed Costello.
"This is an outrage," Cortes said in a press release. "No candidate for office in this great country should be so woefully ignorant of the Constitution and the rights it protects for American citizens."
News 6 contacted Ward's campaign manager, who sent a statement hoping to clarify Ward's comments:
"I stand by what I said. I do not believe the Democrat Party should be able to take advantage of Puerto Rican evacuees fleeing a natural disaster, here on a temporary basis, in order to manipulate voter registration rolls in the run up to the 2018 elections. I would welcome any Puerto Rican who wants to permanently resettle in Florida to register to vote here. We're all American citizens together. That said, if a natural disaster displaced me from Florida to some other state temporarily, I'd still want to vote by absentee in Florida, my home community and voter registration, and not elsewhere.“
“As I said previously, we should be working as a state and nation to apply resources and capital to help these displaced American citizens to return to their homes in Puerto Rico. Home is where we all want to go, that is why home is called home. There is a difference between coming here temporarily, displaced by a natural disaster, and making a permanent life here on the mainland. Again, I welcome any Puerto Rican who wants to resettle here permanently and I want to do the work necessary to allow Puerto Ricans, that want to do so, to return home safely."
"I wish Representative Cortez had called me to talk this through before issuing his statement.”
Ward, Costello and Michael Waltz are all vying for the Republican nomination in the primary election for the House seat, which is being vacated by Ron DeSantis, who is running for governor.
Ward's competitor, Michael Waltz, disagreed with Ward's comments.
"As someone who has served multiple combat tours overseas to defend every American’s right to vote and watched my fellow soldiers die for that right, I am shocked that John Ward would suggest that Americans should not vote," Waltz said. "Certainly, someone who wants to prevent Americans from voting should never serve in office."
The primary election is scheduled for Aug. 28.
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