Elections, Latest News

Haitian-Americans pleased they got to vote, but anxious over stalemate

By Sam Bojarski and Larisa Karr

Haitian-Americans in Miami gathered at the Haitian Powerhouse voter engagement center to await election results on the evening of Nov. 3. Photo by Sam Bojarski

For the Democratic Party and grassroots activists, running up big margins in Miami-Dade County was seen as a necessity for winning Florida. As results rolled in Tuesday night, Miami-Dade resident Richie Tokay watched with resignation. 

“For me, it’s very, very sad, because we don’t look good,” Tokay said. “If Biden [does] not win, the next four years, the Democrats need to change the plan.” 

He wasn’t the only Miami resident watching with angst on Nov. 4.

“The sad thing is that we just don’t know what’s going on in the background, said writer Berwick Augustin, 44. “History is not on the side of Trump, in terms of things being fair and equitable. I think that’s the most frustrating part for me.”

On the morning of Nov. 4, voters across the country awoke to the news that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden had lost the state to President Donald Trump. By Wednesday afternoon, the overall winner of the presidential election was still too close to call, as swing states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan counted mail-in ballots.

“Regardless of the results, America is divided, and its values have remained solidified in 400-year-old practices,” said Bianca Shinn-Desras, 39, of Connecticut. “I have no choice but to be hopeful for our future.” 

The stakes in this year’s presidential election are big, Haitian-Americans have said throughout this election season, with protections for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders among the leading issues. The issue, along with the coronavirus and the economy, drew hundreds of Haitian-American volunteers to voter education and outreach efforts. 

Groups such as the Haitian Powerhouse did their part to encourage as many Democratic votes in Miami-Dade as possible. While the Democratic ground game needed to win Florida could have been stronger, community leaders commend the strong levels of participation and voter turnout nationwide.

“As a true blue Democrat, I’m just anxiously and patiently waiting for the results, to see hopefully that our vote for change, our vote for Biden and Harris, comes through,” Bergson Leneus, 40, an East Orange, New Jersey Council Member.

Leneus commended the record turnout nationwide that drew 160 million voters. 

Arianni Pierre, of East Orange, said it “felt like a weight was lifted off our shoulders,” knowing that she and her family were able to vote. 

“My parents are immigrants and they’re citizens,” said Pierre, 24. “So, I really want them to understand that whatever election we have, whether that’s for councilman, mayor, governor, senator, president, you need to participate.” 

Now, as Pierre noted, voters might have to sit through a waiting game for an undetermined length of time. 

In Florida, lack of long-term engagement blamed

In the swing state of Florida, as the result became clear early on Election Night, thoughts began to percolate about what caused the defeat of Biden, considering the overwhelming support he received from Haitian-Americans and other voters.

Francesca Menes, a policy strategist and co-founder of the Miami-based advocacy group The Black Collective, said the Florida results were no surprise. 

“When you talk about infrastructure building, when you talk about the long-term work that’s being done, the Democratic Party and movement in this state do not do long-term infrastructure-building,” said Menes. 

Countywide in Miami-Dade, voter turnout had eclipsed 2016 numbers by two percentage points, by Tuesday evening. About 422,400 of the county’s roughly 640,000 registered Democrats and 331,500 of the 448,000 registered Republicans had cast their ballots, but at a higher turnout rate for Republicans. 

Voters in North Miami wait to cast ballots during early voting in Florida. Photo by Sam Bojarski

Trump garnered nearly 200,000 more votes there than he did in 2016. So even though Biden won the county, the increase for Trump helped put him over the top statewide. Some of those Republican voters came out because Republican messaging painting Democrats as socialists, which was tested in the 2018 midterms, resonated with them.

To Menes, the lack of a consistent ground game has resulted in the Democratic Party failing to attract new voters into the political process. 

Democratic strategists like Reggie Cardozo have said the lack of an extensive field operation from the Biden campaign hurt the Democrats in Miami-Dade. Cardozo also told the Miami Herald that COVID-19 may have stymied efforts to organize such an operation.

Democratic leaders made campaign stops in South Florida in the final days before the election. Former president Barack Obama visited North Miami in late October. Biden visited Broward County twice in October and campaigned in Little Haiti last month. To top it off, vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris made last-ditch barnstorming efforts and campaigned in Miami-Dade during the last weekend of early voting. 

“If you listen to Obama talk, there’s no way you’re not going to put that checkmark on Biden [winning],” said Ricardo Saint-Cyr, who volunteered with the Haitian Powerhouse in Miami-Dade. 

Groups like the Haitian Powerhouse did their part to drive voter turnout. The missing piece in South Florida is leadership that consistently engages the county’s broad electorate, Saint-Cyr said.

“We don’t have the right leaders to say, ‘OK, we’re going to vote, we have to vote for this guy,’” said Saint-Cyr. 

Sam Bojarski

Sam Bojarski

Sam Bojarski has been covering Haiti and its diaspora for The Haitian Times since 2018. He is currently covering New York's Haitian community as a Report for America corps member.
Sam Bojarski
Nov. 04, 2020

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