MIAMI – Adele Etienne shuffles along the lines at the North Miami Branch Library among the other early voters, armed with a chair, umbrellas, newspapers and flyers distributed by volunteers.
She came with her daughter, Christine Clestin, a first time voter who turned 21 and ready for a two-and-a-half hour wait to cast her vote.
“I am going to vote for ‘that one’ because he is one of us,“ Etienne says showing two Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential Nominee’s button on each side of her t-shirt.
Etienne is a nurse’s aid.
By 4 p.m. the line was hundreds strong winding its way through the back of the library. The umbrellas now poked out of the crowd, first sheltering people from the rain and then the sun. Some people in line checked the wait times from time to time.
“I am so happy. I am not discouraged. I have been here for 3 hours said Naomi Dorsainvil.
Although in South Florida Haitian storefronts are not plastered by campaign posters like four years ago and months ago, efforts supporting the Democratic ticket seemed less visible, in the line where Haitians were waitng, you can feel that the prospect of having the first black president of the United States has created a huge wave of enthusiasm among them, many of whom are coming out to vote for the first time in their lives.
“I want to be part of that difference,” said Patricia Desir, 20 an FIU Health Care Major.Desir is a first time voter.
“Obama talks about the real issue. We need funding for College, financial aid, more opportunities for black,” said Etienne’s daughter Christine Celestin, a student at Miami Dade College. The mother is also a first time voter.
Haitians for Obama groups have emerged only after Hillary Clinton’s concession and the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Now they are sporting t-shirts bearing Obama’s face and his “Yes, We Can” button in Creole: “Wi, Nou Kapab.”
Going down the line you hear a loud voice and voters 5 to 6 feet up and down can listen without much effort the explanation given on the different flyers they handed to them. It is North Miami Councilman Jacques Despinosse who is helping voters understand the process. Despinosse, who identified himself as a Clinton supporter , was not an early supporter but now he has conformed himself and enter the mobilization.
“Race is the factor that explains why many people in Florida are undecided. We are afraid to say that,” Despinosse said.
The early voting system’s two-week window, which began Oct. 21, has been in place in Florida since 2002, in a bid to help alleviate technical problems on election day. These problems became world famous in 2000 after the state’s prolonged recount concluded that Republican George W. Bush won the state over Al Gore — and so the presidency — by just 500 votes.
According to some public statements, the number of early voters could approach 30% of all of Florida’s 11.2 million registered voters by the actual Nov. 4 Election Day.
“95% of Haitian start early voting,” said Lavarice Gaudin of “Veye Yo”, a grassroots organization that has organized rallies and mobilized people to vote.
While Despinosse was explaining the pamphlets to people, Gaudin was going from group to group with another goal: making sure they were ok.
“What time will they close,” says a man in Creole who came to Gaudin worried that he will not have time to vote today.
“Go park your car and get a ticket, once you are in the line before 5 PM. even if it is midnight you’ll vote,” Gaudin said to the guy who has a second shift job that started at 7 P.M.
“I would prefer not to go to work to have a chance to vote,” he replied.
The ‘Veye Yo’ activist interrupted interviews several times to answer the many questions Haitian voters were asking.
The early voters who lined up say the economy, health care and education are extremely important to them. They fear they will face unexpected medical expenses; they will lose their home and will not be able to find jobs.
“In the past the issues were only immigration now it is job,” said Gaudin.
“The economy is crucial. I know people who have lost the house they own after more than 20 years,” Gaudin said
Although Gaudin acknowledges that economy is the main issue for Haitians many voters did not shy to say at first they want favorable U.S. policy toward Haiti and specifically for the new administration to vote the TPS act.
“We would like for Obama to work on the TPS issue,” said a confident Immacula Charles who believes Obama will win the elections.
“We are the only one being deported,” Charles also a nurse’s aide said. Charles has been leaving in the U.S. for 13 years.
“If Obama wins he will not have any other choice than adopting the TPS act. Black Caucus Group wants it and Congress want it,” Despinosse said
At a recent visit in Florida, President Rene Preval issued a plea for the United States administration to put in place for Haitians the benefit of Temporary Protected Status, that has already been granted to other countries in the region, such as El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
On September after four hurricanes hit Haiti, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement temporarily halted deportations to Haiti but said it would review its decision on a daily basis.
Temporarily Protected Status is a designation approved by Congress in 1990 for foreign nationals fleeing civil war and natural disasters.
Today, the Haitian radio stations from northern Palm Beach to Florida City are filled with commentary by pastors, show hosts, and long-time activists who continue to solicit comments from listeners.
About 20 percent of Florida’s 18 million people were born elsewhere, according to Census figures. The Bureau found roughly 234,000 Haitians living in the state, but community advocates say that many live in South Florida alone. There are no hard figures showing how many voters are Haitian-born or are of Haitian ancestry.
In 2007 alone, about 40 percent of the 11,552 Haitians that became U.S. citizens lived in Florida, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Overall, between 1998 and 2007, about 116,627 Haitians became U.S citizens.
“I am asking will this country forget all the past and vote for a black man,” Despinosse said