Omar Khan, Charlie Crist’s campaign manager in his recent gubernatorial race, got it right when he said, “It’s not just about persuading voters who to vote for, it’s also people wanting to vote.” Miami-Dade County voters chose by 60 percent not to vote this November.
Currently, for a Democrat to win a statewide Florida election he or she must carry Southeast Florida’s three counties by a minimum of a 350,000 plurality, in at least a 1,350,000 voter turnout. More than 1,362,000 voted in this region in 2014, from which Crist got a 500,000 plurality. But, he lost anyway. How could Crist, with 2,788,706 votes, not win? Alex Sink in 2010 lost with 2,520,000. Almost 400,000 more Floridians voted in 2014, for a total of almost 6 million this year, just over 50 percent of registered voters.
Answer: It’s all relative. Along the I-10 corridor, from Jacksonville to Pensacola, Scott got a plurality of more than 200,000 votes. With modest wins in the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas and a strong 92,679 plurality in Southwest Florida, Scott overcame the Crist win in the six big Florida counties.
It was all about turnout. North Florida in 2014 had a 60-percent turnout, Central Florida had a 50-percent turnout and Southeast Florida was in the low 40 percent. Had our part of Florida turned out like Central or North Florida, Crist would have won.
Hispanic voters are another sleeping giant in midterm elections, as are women, black and youth voters. The Pew Research Center analysis of the Latino vote that was released on Nov. 7, based on analysis of the respected Edison Research for the National Election Pool, stated that in the national congressional vote, Democratic Latino vote decreased, but still dominated 62 percent, to a Republican Latino vote of 36 percent.
This was not too far from the Latino spread in the Florida governor’s race: 58-percent Democratic to 38-percent Republican. One exit poll in Florida 2014 showed Cuban Americans voting 50 percent Democratic.
But now that we know that Miami-Dade County had the dubious distinction of having the lowest voter turnout of the 67 counties in Florida, with a 40.6 percent turnout in 2014, the key question remains: Why don’t Miamians want to vote? Why did almost 60 percent of the voters here, with the current ease of voting, just not want to be involved, to be heard?
Much of the answer has to do with our being more of a transient community than the rest of Florida. Miami-Dade is also poorer, less educated and has less civic involvement than other parts of the state.
The standard answer to nonvoting is the alienation that comes from negative campaigns, not only from the gubernatorial candidates, but also from their supporters, who jointly spent more than $150 million. The 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case has unleashed dark money that in this gubernatorial election cycle in Florida was estimated to exceed $50 million.
Money in negative campaigns always has consequences, unfortunately.
Nationally, expenditures in all political campaigns for 2014 came close to $4 billion, a record. Yet, nationally only 36.6 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.
We can no longer blame just the poor performing candidates. This pattern has plagued Miami-Dade for the past 30 years. It’s the quality of the voters that really must be questioned.
What to do about poor voter turnout? It takes a long-term solution. We must follow Sen. Bob Graham’s suggestion of increased civic education. For everyone: K-12 students, university students, to get a driving license, to get a government job, to get a job at the University of Miami, FIU, MDC, MDC Schools, FPL, etc.
Civic education is needed for all citizens in Miami. We might not be able to democratically simulate Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries. But, we in Miami-Dade can certainly do better than dead last in Florida in important midterm elections. Civic education must become a priority for the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, all Florida attorneys’ bars, including the Cuban American Bar Assn., the League of Women Voters, and every service club in the county.
Maurice Ferré is a former Miami mayor, former Miami-Dade County commissioner and former state legislator.