By Sam Bojarski and Nicole Alcindor
As polls began to close on the East Coast a crowd of more than 50 people gathered at the Haitian Powerhouse, at 8291 NE 2nd Ave. in Miami, to await results.
Maybelle Jadotte of Brooklyn, one of several New Yorkers who made the 1,200-mile trip to help get Haitian-Americans to the polls in the battleground state of Florida, said she felt confident about a Joe Biden victory.
“I feel like there’s a lot of great work that has been done over the past couple of months,” Jadotte said. “People are mobilized, they’re engaged, because there’s a lot at stake.”
The Haitian Powerhouse center has served as an unofficial campaign headquarters for supporters of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden since September. Volunteers have organized door-to-door canvassing efforts, driven voters to the polls and shared information about how to vote with community members.
Pierre Raymond “King Kino” Divers, of New York City, said issues like the fate of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) motivated him and others to make the trip to South Florida.
“We’ve done an extremely good job motivating the community to come out and vote,” Divers said.
“I think they realize America wasn’t [as] great as it was supposed to be,” Divers also said, about the past four years under the Trump administration.
While enthusiasm was high early in the evening, by 10 p.m.., some of the air had left the room at the Haitian Powerhouse, as CNN reported a more than 382,000-vote Trump lead in Florida with 93% of votes counted.
Early results indicated that Biden underperformed in Miami-Dade County, where he needed a significant lead on the president to have a chance at winning Florida.
Richie Tokay, owner of Tokay TV, has been covering the election in Miami-Dade for his television station. Tokay said Biden’s weak showing in the county came as a surprise.
“A week before, we think today by 8 or 7 o’clock the Democrat would be [ahead] in Florida,” Tokay, of Miami, said.
He said the enthusiastic talk among Democratic voters throughout the county did not match their turnout at the polls, as the results came in.
The crowd at the Haitian Powerhouse thinned out by about half as it looked like Trump would come away with Florida’s 29 Electoral College votes.
“It’s a tough one, after all the energy that they put in Florida,” Ricardo Saint-Cyr, of Davie, said about the Democrats.
Biden visited Broward County twice in October, in addition to visiting Little Haiti, in Miami. President Obama visited North Miami for a rally Oct. 24.
As midnight approached, most key battleground states were still too close to call.
Haitian-Americans showed up to vote in large numbers on Nov. 3 and the preceding days.
On Election Day, a line of voters about 30 people deep stretched into the parking lot at the North Miami Public Library when the polling place opened at 7 a.m. After skipping early voting, these day-of voters in the Haitian enclave of North Miami moved along six feet apart for social distancing, each one carrying the hope that their ballot would put their candidate over the top.
Seen as a crucial bloc for presidential contenders Joe Biden and Donald Trump, Florida’s Haitian-Americans have embraced the message that they can determine the Leader of the Free World for the next four years.
Jean Goun, of North Miami, was one of the first voters to come out of the polling station on Nov. 3. Goun, who said he voted for Biden, noted how divided the country has become under President Donald Trump.
“To me, we’ve split,” said Goun, 57. “We’re supposed to be in this world together, to make it work, that’s the most important thing.”
By late morning, voters continued to walk into the North Miami Public Library to vote, but there was no line. Cindy Eugene went to the library hoping to cast her ballot for Biden shortly after 10 a.m.
“We’re saying that Black Lives Matter, but nothing’s going to change if we don’t do anything about it,” said Eugene, 25, of North Miami. “So we actually have to go out and vote, voice our opinion.”
As of 4:30 p.m., the Toussaint Louverture Elementary School in Little Haiti had seen about 125 voters on Nov. 3, said Lorna Smith, the clerk of the polling site.
“It’s been kind of slow,” said Smith, although she attributed this to the record number of voters in Miami-Dade who cast ballots early.
In New York, Haitian-American voters moved along in the early hours of Nov. 3 to cast ballots across the five boroughs and Long Island.
“I voted for Biden because he is for the working family, he understands people, he’s not a jerk, and he understands racism,” said Monette Respide, of Elmont, New York. “Even though Trump stands for making money, we need someone who understands us and who can represent America and not white supremacy.”
Michaelle Solages, who is running for reelection to represent New York State Assembly District 22, voted early this year. But she was at the Elmont Dutch Broadway School polling station before 9 a.m. to support voters.
“I’m excited to see so many people, especially Haitians, participating in voting,” said Solages, who was first elected to the assembly in 2012. “This is the highest amount of Haitian voters I’ve seen in my career.”
Haitians in New York who voted in the early afternoon hours of Nov. 3 reported a smooth process at the polls.
“The voting process was a very fast experience. I waited for 10 minutes [in] line,” said Richard, a resident of the Rosedale neighborhood in Queens, who declined to provide his last name. Richard said he voted for Biden after choosing Trump in 2016.
“Trump stands for nothing. He has no respect for anyone, including Haitians and other marginalized groups,” said Richard, who voted around 1 p.m. on Election Day.
Florida Haitians vote
More than 300,500 voters of Haitian descent reside in Florida, The Haitian Times has reported. In the swing state, which President Donald Trump won by 112,911 votes in 2016, Haitian voters like Goun can swing the election in either direction. That’s why the Biden campaign actively courted them this year, with Creole-language media ads and even a visit to Little Haiti by the nominee.
During Florida’s early voting period Oct. 19 to Nov. 1, Haitian-American voters often cited the fate of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic among the leading reasons motivating them to vote. Those who said they voted for the president tended to care more about the economy over issues like immigration.
Jerry R., a Haitian-American who declined to provide his full last name, said he favored Trump over Biden, before voting in North Miami. He wore a black shirt bearing the words “Socialism distancing” to the polls.
While Jerry said that in his view, Trump wants immigrants to come to the U.S. legally, he apparently doesn’t agree with every aspect of Trump’s immigration policy. TPS recipients, many of whom have resided in the U.S. for decades, should be given a path to citizenship, Jerry said.
“If you’re in the country already, you’re an outstanding citizen, you’re not a criminal, I think you should stay here,” Jerry, 38, said. “They should make a great effort to get that situated for you, get your papers right, make you a citizen.”
Jerry, who works as a chef, said he is happy with his personal economic situation, despite the coronavirus-induced recession.
“I’ve been able to work consistently, I haven’t gotten laid off, I have great benefits at my job,” he said.
Since the Trump administration announced in 2017 that it would end protections for nearly 60,000 Haitian TPS holders, many Haitians have been on edge. A federal court affirmed this September that the administration can end TPS. Those protections for Haitians expire in March 2021, leaving many community members feeling anxious and others demanding that Biden prioritize reversing Trump’s actions if he wins.
“I’ve never seen the community so on edge for an election,” said Michael Andre Etienne, 37, an attorney who resides in North Miami. “I’ve never seen an election where people are basically voting with their emotions, and they’re just so concerned.”
Another major concern has been the Covid-19 pandemic. Although President Trump has repeatedly said the U.S. is “rounding the corner” in beating the coronavirus, the country set a record for new infections Oct. 30, with more than 98,500 coronavirus cases reported.
The resulting loss of work in the service industry has become an important issue at stake for Florida’s Haitian community, activist and FANM Executive Director Marleine Bastien said. “We have a situation at FANM where we are flooded with unemployment requests,” said Bastien.
Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic was another reason Goun, of North Miami, said he voted.
“Trump [doesn’t] take the things serious, you can’t play with people’s [lives] like this,” he said.
Community leaders like Santra Denis, president and founder of Avanse Ansanm, which educates and mobilizes Haitian-American millennials in South Florida, have done their part to drive turnout. This fall, the organization has hosted pull-up voter drives at 25 Haitian bakeries throughout Broward and Miami-Dade counties, to share information on how to vote.
Denis said she was concerned about voter turnout in Black communities heading into the weekend of Oct. 31. But during the weekend, about 50 volunteers from the organization doubled down on voter engagement, sending text messages that encouraged voting and going door-to-door in neighborhoods like Little Haiti, Denis said. These efforts have given her confidence heading into Election Day.
“The pullup voter drives have been very successful, we’ve also been knocking on doors in predominantly Haitian and Black communities all throughout South Florida,” Denis said.
As racial tensions rose since the killing of George Floyd, so have widespread fears of social unrest resulting from Election Day, regardless of the winner. The National Guard was preparing for deployment Nov. 2, to quell Election Day tensions that might arise.
As she stood in line to cast her ballot, Diandra Armstrong, of North Miami, said voters should not be deterred by threats of violence or voter intimidation.
“I don’t think we should let that stop us from heading to the polls,” said Armstrong, 36. “We need to be brave.”
Given the unexpected outcome of the 2016 presidential contest, voters like Bianca Raquel, a resident of Valley Stream, New York, will be watching for results with some anxiety.
“In 2016, it looked like Hillary was getting ahead, then I woke up the next morning, and everything changed,” said Raquel, who voted for Biden on Nov. 3. “Everything can change in an instant, so that’s nerve wrecking.”