The eloquent voices of Florida’s voters

From the first sign of daylight, Matt and Hollie Hodges are culling the waters for oysters. The couple has been “oystering” for three years off the coast of Panacea, a small community in Wakulla County in North Florida.

“This time last year we should be catching 15 to 20,” bushels of oysters, Matt says.

Now, says Hollie, “We are lucky — lucky — to get 10.”

They say oysters are scarce this year due to a combination of over harvesting and a long drought, followed by torrential rains.

Asked about the upcoming presidential election, Hodges tells WLRN-Miami Herald radio reporter Kenny Malone that both candidates are about the same. “If I had to vote for either one, I would vote for Obama. He helped me keep my house.”

His wife Hollie has a different response: “I like him but then again, we’re still at a deficit right now. We’re probably at a time when we need somebody else in office.”

To capture voices across the spectrum of Florida voters, Malone and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Patrick Farrell logged more than 2,000 miles during a 10-day trek crisscrossing Florida. Their criteria: to get personal stories from a cross-section of Floridians, then layer in the politics.

Their subjects ranged from a juggler who makes his livelihood performing at Mallory Square in Key West to a Gladesman from Ochopee who lives off sales of Skunk-Ape paraphernalia.

Their mission: to get a sampling of perspectives from people we don’t often hear from in the country’s largest swing state.

Malone and Farrell’s daily reports — a rich collection of audio-visual vignettes — are a marriage of old-school street reporting and modern social media tools. Farrell took photos both with a digital camera and an iPhone, using Instagram and Hipstamatic apps for immediate uploads, which were then posted to The Miami Herald website. They also posted updates on Twitter. Malone’s recorded interviews were filed for radio reports — then served as the narrative for the slideshows the pair produced. Those reports are all plotted on an interactive map.

There is no qualitative takeaway; there are no poll numbers — only the voices of real Floridians whose votes once again will be key in the presidential election.

What they did find: The economy is top of mind, regardless of political persuasion.

“People are working hard — really hard — and they don’t see more for it,” Farrell said.

What they didn’t find is just as important.

“The partisanship that seems to dominate politics hasn’t existed in virtually anyone we have talked to,” Malone said. “The individuals we have interviewed have expressed that ambivalence about politics and the candidates. That’s what makes Florida a swing state.”

To watch the Dispatches from the Swing State, go to http://www.miamiherald.com/dispatches/. A selection of the profiles and photographs will be published this week in the print edition of The Miami Herald. Then at 6 p.m. Oct. 17, the public is invited to join Farrell and Malone for a discussion of the project at Books and Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables.

“The point is that Florida as a swing state translates into individual voters,” Malone said.