Last Tuesday’s midterm vote produced, at 36.4 percent, the lowest voter turnout of any U.S. election in 72 years (the 1942 election, with its 33.9 percent participation rate, took place in the midst of World War II). It also reinforced a few durable truths. Among them: that the young, the non-white and the not-so-well-to-do have largely exited the democratic process, except when it’s time to elect a president.
The reason why will continue to be a matter of debate. Much of the critical mass of Senate contests took place in the South, and 2014 was the first midterm election after the Supreme Court ripped the heart out of the Voting Rights Act, prompting many red states to rush through restrictive voting laws aimed at distinct populations that tend to prefer Democrats.
And yet, obstruction, however broad, can’t explain the near halving of the electorate compared to the one that elected Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Even the strictest photo ID law can’t account for the historically low turnout last week.
In fact, the electorate has operated like a kind of sine wave since the 1960s, rising to two-thirds of eligible voters every four years for the presidential contest, then dropping to around 40 percent two years after. And those who choose to withdraw from the decision-making over who runs their states and localities, and who represents them in Congress, tend to be the very people who rely most on the federal government’s guarantees of their human rights, and who are most subject to state government’s exercise of power over their daily lives.
Democrats may one day figure out how to change that, and to run campaigns that aren’t self-defeating or presumptuous toward their own base, or pitifully incapable of standing by their own accomplishments and presidents. But for now, that is where things stand.
And whether by disenfranchisement, disillusionment or simple apathy, those Americans who presumably favor Democratic policies have subjected themselves to conservative Republican governance for the next two years.
For Florida, which in many ways is two states, the way the United States is, in many ways, two countries, the consequences could be dire for the population that is at once ascendant numerically, yet in midterms, electorally marginal.
The “blue” part of Florida went solidly for Charlie Crist, giving him more than 58 percent of the gubernatorial vote in Miami-Dade County and similar margins in Broward, with both counties outdoing the national turnout by non-spectacular figures: 43.6 percent in Broward and 40.8 percent in Miami-Dade.
And yet, Rick Scott’s narrow reelection means that the blue counties will likely reap the whirlwind at the hands of “red” Florida, which voted emphatically to reject the core policies of the Democratic Party and President Obama, starting with the Affordable Care Act and its expansion of Medicaid.
As the Herald has reported, the Jackson Health System, which treats uninsured patients, stands to lose between about $600 million a year with the scheduled elimination of federal money from the Low Income Pool. Altogether, South Florida safety-net hospitals will lose well over $1 billion, money that would have been more than replaced had Florida chosen to expand Medicaid.
Instead, Florida will likely cede $51 billion in healthcare funding when Scott and the Republican Legislature double down, as expected, on their rejection of the Medicaid expansion.
This as a United Way report finds that almost half of Floridians are barely getting by financially, living just above the federal poverty line.
Florida isn’t alone. Most southern states have poverty rates higher than the national average and stand to lose disproportionately to states such as New York and California by forgoing Medicaid dollars. The southern states are home to 80 percent of the 4.8 million Americans locked out of the Medicaid expansion by their governors and legislatures, with Florida accounting for more than 760,000 of the uninsured who earn too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but too little to qualify for Obamacare’s health-insurance subsidies.
Yet these states voters — well, 40 percent of them — are affirmatively choosing to do nothing about it, based on their ideological opposition to Obama.
For much of the country, watching Florida re-elect Rick Scott was like watching a girlfriend refuse to stop dating a really bad guy. But at some point, you can’t tell your friends whom to go out with. And you can’t make a state take care of its poor or uninsured.
Those voters who could be bothered have spoken.