Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Florida voters’ apathy sinking to new lows

Precinct R035 felt like a scene out of those old Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns. It was hot. It was eerily quiet. In lieu of Clint, I stood in for the stranger riding into town, headed for the old church building where the only signs of life were a few poll workers in a semi-somnolent state.

All the scene needed was tumbleweed, me decked out in a dusty serape and a few haunting bars of Ennio Morricone’s score from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Except with lonely me as the only living voter in the vicinity of RO35, we’ll have to settle for just The Ugly.

Voting in my precinct in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday made democracy seem a forlorn process. An exercise in solitude. Like a variation on that old Anton Chekhov line: “If you are afraid of loneliness, do not marry.” In this case, if you’re afraid of loneliness, do not vote. And 89 percent of the eligible voters in R035 didn’t.

Only 128 of the voters in my precinct in the eastern reaches of Fort Lauderdale cast ballots in the primary election. That amounted to 10.89 percent of the eligible voters — a pathetic showing, yet not quite as pathetic as the countywide turnout of 10.76 percent (By comparison, Miami-Dade voters, with a 14.4 percent turnout, were mobbing their precincts.).

Only Glades County, with a population just over 13,000, demonstrated more apathy than Broward with a 9.26 percent turnout. But Glades, a depressed agricultural community marooned on the western banks of Lake Okeechobee, may have an excuse for apathy. Broward’s mass disaffection is harder to figure out.

Not that the statewide turnout — just 17.55 percent of eligible voters — was much more encouraging. I wrote columns back in the 1990s bemoaning the end of democracy when the turnout was twice what it was Tuesday. But apathy in Florida, particularly in South Florida, keeps redefining itself.

The numbers must be sobering for Charlie Crist, who’ll need voters in Miami-Dade and especially Broward, one of the most liberal counties in the South, to awaken from their comas come November. Unhappily for Charlie, the Broward precinct with the highest turnout isn’t exactly packed with his kind of voters. Nearly 44 percent of the registered voters came out for the election in precinct C029, largely defined by John Knox Village, a retirement community. The aged precinct’s Republicans outnumber Democrats 444 to 260.

Across the nation, voters in the magic age range of 18 to 29, the kind of folks Charlie desperately needs to show up in November, have been coming out in this year’s primaries at a rate 20 percent less than their mostly oblivious elders, a rate which in South Florida would put their impact on the election somewhere between sparse and infinitesimal.

Want to know where the young would-be voters have gone? We got a good hint on Monday when Amazon announced that it was paying $970 million for Twitch, a three-year-old video game streaming website that exists somewhere beyond the awareness of the over-30 set. Except for over-30 Jeff Bezos, who described Twitch as a “platform that brings together tens of millions of people who watch billions of minutes of games each month.”

There’s the answer for Tuesday’s turnout. When you spend billions of minutes playing video games, who has time to vote?

But the primary was not completely slumberous. Nadege Green, my former Herald colleague now working over at WLRN Radio, reported yelling, bickering, admonishments and threats around a precinct in North Miami.

Once, that sort of election day behavior might have been regarded as unseemly. But in 2014, a precinct ruckus has become encouraging news. At least the voters there indicated that they were awake.