It is becoming clearer that in a presidential election frequently described as presenting the most important choice for voters in the modern era, the outcome in the state of Florida looms even larger than usual for a swing state known for its close election results. In the United States 2020 presidential election cycle, Florida’s large population of Jamaican and other voters of Caribbean descent is likely to have a significant impact, particularly as these voters have been “electrified” by the inclusion of Senator Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s running mate and candidate for vice president on the Democratic Party’s ticket.
The choice of Senator Kamala Harris, who is of Jamaican and Indian descent, as the vice-presidential candidate has created considerable excitement among Caribbean Americans. These voters, particularly Black West Indian diaspora voters not typically targeted by national campaigns, are extremely motivated by Harris, who would be the first woman vice president, the first Black vice president, and the first Asian-American vice president, if the Biden/Harris ticket wins the election.
Some 10 million Florida voters participate in elections that have often been decided by a single percentage point. The 2020 presidential election is especially notable as the growing Black Caribbean community centered in Broward County takes on more importance than the state’s Latin communities to the political campaigns. The Broward County area is known as a Democratic stronghold in which voters are “eager to defeat Trump” and incredibly energized by the candidacy of Harris. The county has the most Jamaican residents of anywhere in the US, and Florida counts over 974,000 people with West Indian ancestry. Voters feel that with Harris, a part of Jamaica will be represented in the White House.
The US Department of Homeland Security reports that between 2016 and 2018, more Jamaicans became naturalized US citizens than did people from Venezuela, a population typically targeted by the Republicans. According to Dan Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida, “these naturalized citizens vote. They turn out.” Hazelle Rogers, the Jamaican-born mayor of Lauderdale Lakes and the first Jamaican to be elected to that office, noted that “everyone” is talking about what needs to be done to ensure the Biden/Harris team wins. “We are so proud, and we know that we must deliver.”
Caribbean-linked residents in the area have expressed pride in the fact that Senator Harris selected Karine Jean-Pierre, a Black woman who was born in Martinique to Haitian parents, to be her chief of staff. They also noted with pride that the senior adviser for Florida on the Biden campaign is Karen Andre, a first-generation Haitian American who was born in New York and raised in Florida.
During a campaign visit to Florida, Harris visited a Venezuelan restaurant and a historically Black university in Miami Gardens, meeting with Black leaders, including US Representative Frederica Wilson and Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce CEO Gordon Eric Knowles, both of whom have Bahamian ancestry.
The Biden/Harris campaign has also released television and radio advertising on Haitian Creole stations, along with print ads in Caribbean publications that highlight Biden’s efforts to support Black-owned businesses and that referred to Harris as “our Jamaican sister.”
“America is already voting by mail and early in-person voting in record numbers. Jamaican Americans and others from the Caribbean will have an impactful say whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States. Given the history of previous elections decided by less than 1% of registered voters, Jamaicans by ourselves could literally tip the scale in any direction on who secures the electoral votes from battleground states like the coveted state of Florida,” stated Marlon Hill, Miami attorney and a past president of Caribbean Bar Association.
Recent polls report Biden/Harris leading by 51 percent to 47 percent among likely voters. Both parties have targeted Florida’s 29 electoral votes as a priority in the days running up to the beginning of in-person, early voting, which starts on October 19, 2020.
Broward County has already sent out 511,000 mail ballots, while Miami-Dade County is sending 539,000 on October 15, 2020. These two South Florida counties have the state’s largest populations of African American, Caribbean American, and Hispanic voters. More than 1.7 million Floridians have already cast mail ballots ahead of the Nov. 3 election. Democrats lead in by-mail voting with about 904,000 ballots cast, compared to Republicans, who have cast about 519,800. Independents and third-party voters have returned about 356,500 ballots to date. It is expected that Democrats will vote in larger numbers by mail, while Republicans are more likely to vote in person.
Various Caribbean groups, including “Soca the Vote,” and Caribbean American Politically Active Citizens have been actively mobilizing Caribbean American votes in 2020. At the beginning of October, the Caribbean American Politically Active Citizens published their Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach voters guide. On October 11, 2020, the Biden Harris campaign held a carnival parade across the state of Florida. The Caravans to Carnival Parade event encouraged participants to decorate their vehicles for the statewide parade.
On October 13, 2020, Democratic presidential candidate and former vice-president Joe Biden visited Miramar, Florida, a city that, as of 2000, had the fifth-highest percentage of Jamaican residents of any state in the US; they represented 15.4 percent of the population. Miramar also has high percentages of Cuban, Dominican, Haitian, and Trinidadian residents, and its mayor Wayne Messam is of Jamaican descent.
Biden presented a marked contrast to the Republican candidate by wearing a mask when he spoke to a small group of senior citizens at a senior center in Pembroke Pines in a socially distanced environment. He strongly criticized the current federal administration’s approach to handling COVID-19, and how it continues holding “super-spreader parties with Republicans hugging each other without concern of the consequences,” while seniors couldn’t see their grandchildren.
“Caribbean-American voters like all Americans have a voice but they have been untapped as a voting bloc. In 2020 their influence has been noticed because of the increasing numbers and the energy they have displayed in this general election season. Caribbean-American voters have been awakened and now realize their power and are seizing it. This awakening and the attention it has received will cascade into even more Caribbean voters taking part and simultaneously gaining them more political recognition. It’s a win-win and I for one am loving it.”
Dahlia Walker-Huntington, Attorney at law.
Updated 10/15/2020 to clarify The Caravans to Carnival Parade.