Surprise: Florida Will Decide The 2020 Election For Biden Election Night
Crazy, you say? Florida, a place whose citizenry are targeted relentlessly and stereotyped for outrageous behavior and suspect decisions? The Sunshine State whose greatest claim to fame, after an anthropomorphic mouse, is the botched 2000 Bush-Gore election?
If I haven’t lost you yet, bear with me and I think you will be positively convinced by the end. There are really four distinct reasons for my prognostication, and while each alone will not lead to a Democratic victory, however, when the four are taken together in concert, victory almost seems certain.
To start with it is important to remind those reading who are not invested in historic election results and polling data, as to why Florida is of such importance. First, Florida has 29 votes in the Electoral College, the 4th most of any state, and the largest state that falls within the ‘undecided’ category. The state is roughly split proportionately at 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans. Therefore, it is more than just coincidence that the eventual Presidential winner has also been the winner of Florida, George Bush (2000,2004), Barack Obama (2008,2012) and Donald Trump (2016), and usually by the narrowest of margins, as seen below –
The 2016 election saw Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton by only 1.2% which translates to roughly 113,000 votes, a very small margin when one considers that well over 9 million votes were cast. The tipping point from wildly-Undecided to likely-Democratic is a slight left shift as a result of an additive effect from 4 minor changes.
First, we must go back to November 2018, in which Floridians chose to restore voting rights to certain convicted felons who had completed their sentences with the passage of Amendment 4. This restoration of voting rights should have meant that 1.4 million individuals would now be allowed to partake in the 2020 Presidential election. However, the Republican-led Florida legislature then successfully hampered the will of the electorate by creating a roadblock for the ex-offenders to complete by requiring that all fines and court costs, some totaling a few thousand dollars, be paid before voter registration was allowed even though this was not specified during the passage of Amendment 4. Effectively, Florida created a modern-day poll tax that should have violated the 24th Amendment. Unfortunately, the fear that a deluge of ex-felons suddenly having the opportunity to partake in democracy was too frightening to the judges sitting on Florida’s Appeals Court, and the new requirements were subsequently upheld.
Perhaps, it was all for the better though. The publicity of Florida’s new attempt at disenfranchisement rallied a number of celebrities. NBA star, LeBron James, and New York City billionaire, Michael Bloomberg, are just two of the big names who have since undertaken projects with the expressed goal of paying the fines and court costs of ex-felons and thus restoring the lost rights. Normally, past offenders are a group that votes in relatively small numbers, but the publicity over the last year has led to various outreach programs, such as the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which will encourage their participation in the 2020 election and beyond in greater than expected numbers. Now, while it does not matter for whom you would choose to vote to receive the financial help, it is not a stretch to believe that these organizations reach ex-felons mainly through the efforts of Democratic associated organizations (see freeourvote.com) [Correction: freeourvote.com is actually non-partisan]. Still, in the end, perhaps only a few hundred thousand will be able to pay their final fines and be able to register to vote by the October 6, 2020 deadline.
This is not to say that these newly enfranchised persons will automatically vote Democratic either. A decade ago, about 115,000 ex-felons had their voting rights restored in Florida by then-Governor Charlie Crist. Recently, Vox did an outstanding report on these individuals and their political inclinations after their rights were restored. One of the most surprising developments discovered was that the political party registration of these individuals was not as overwhelmingly Democratic as many would suspect. In their estimation, if all felons would have had their votes restored by the 2016 Presidential election — 102,000 would have voted Democrat and 54,000 would have voted Republican, resulting in a net difference of 48,000 which is far short of the 112,000 that would have been needed to deliver Clinton a 2016 Florid victory. Still, a 40,000-vote gain is far from an insignificant number.
The next part of the equation begins a year earlier, in fact exactly on September 20, 2017, and in the aftermath of one of the most devastating storms in American history. It was on a Wednesday when the Category 4 storm, Hurricane Maria, struck Puerto Rico leaving over 2,975 people dead and 95% of the island without power. Maria couldn’t have happened at a worse time for the citizens of Puerto Rico, as two equally powerful hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, had struck the mainland of the United States within the previous month leaving precious few resources to help with the recovery effort on the island. Puerto Rico was seemingly subsequently forgotten about by the Trump administration who acted as if Puerto Ricans were freeloaders and second-class citizens. He even supposedly tried to sell Puerto Rico as if it were a property he could divest in his portfolio. This callousness towards American citizens led to an exodus of Puerto Ricans from the island to the mainland, with estimates of between 50,000 and 100,000 islanders having settled in Florida either while their homes are being rebuilt or permanently.
It has been a painstakingly slow process with some parts of the island remaining without power and services for over a year. Yet strangely, the negligence shown to these Americans in the aftermath of such a horrible disaster, which famously and sadly, saw President Trump tossing paper towels to citizens fighting for survival, may come back to bite him. The United States Constitution and Federal law create a rather peculiar circumstance as Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico cannot vote for the Presidency of the United States because of Puerto Rico’s Commonwealth status as opposed to full statehood. However, as citizens of the United States, they can vote for the Presidency while they reside within any U.S. state, notably Florida in this case. Normally, demographics change at a steady but predictable rate that allows political scientists the ability to predict long-term changes with great accuracy. However, occasionally, an unpredictable event will occur, such as war, famine, or in this case, Hurricane Maria. This sudden demographic change in Florida will most likely benefit Democrats, and there is no reason to believe that they will be voting for President Trump in any sizable numbers. During the 2016 Presidential primary, in which Puerto Rico does participate and the last primary with multiple candidates from both parties competing, Democrats outdrew Republicans in a 1.5:1 ratio. If this holds throughout the 2020 Presidential election, the final result will be a large chunk of voters siding with Joe Biden that did not exist in the 2016 election.
Third, is President’s Trump handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, or more precisely his poor handling of the pandemic. One recent poll showed a 66% disapproval rating of Trump’s Coronavirus response. When taken in consort that President Trump’s strongest age demographics are those individuals who are over 65-years of age and the result is a recipe for voter redistribution. Donald Trump won 57% of Florida’s elderly compared to Hillary Clinton’s 40% in the 2016 election. The 2020 demographics, from the United States Census, show Florida’s median age being 38.7 years old, by far the oldest state in the country, with 17.6% of Floridians being 65 and older resulting in slightly more than 2.8 million elderly Floridians eligible to register to vote. However, disappointingly for President Trump’s reelection, this is the one group most adversely affected by the virus and his perceived poor-handling of said virus. While Trump is not going to suddenly lose this demographic in any large quantity, I do believe that there will be enough abandonment to sway the results of the 2020 election in Florida. After all, losing 1% of 2.8 million is essentially another 28,000 (net 56,000) votes that will end up off his final total and in the column of his challenger.
A combination of these three will turn Florida blue this election, but there is one more factor that will assure that Florida is called on the night of November 3rd. This final puzzle piece harkens back to that infamously contested Bush-Gore election in 2000. Although Florida’s Republican officeholders were happy with the Supreme Court decision that guaranteed the Presidency would go to George W. Bush, the process was still an embarrassment that the state leaders wished to correct. As such, Florida worked rigorously on expanding mail-in voting. The result of their painstaking effort was that in 2016, as many as 30% of ballots were mail-in, thus alleviating the long-lines that had become commonplace in the population centers surrounding Dade, Broward, Orange, and Hillsborough counties. Additionally, Florida state law was changed allowing for the votes to be tabulated early so that there will be no rush on election night. The first results that the nation sees coming out of Florida will likely be the mail-in ballots. For those Floridians who want a detailed checklist and step-by-step guide to Florida’s mail-in balloting laws, should check out this article in the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Essentially, Florida has already built an infrastructure for all the state’s votes, both at the polls and mail-in, to be counted accurately and quickly. Florida does not have to suffer through the growing pains that other states, inexperienced at handling large quantities of mail-in ballots on election night, may potentially experience this election.
So once Florida falls — Biden will only need one more swing state. Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, or North Carolina — doesn’t matter which one — the path for Joe Biden to earn victory narrows considerably when in comparison to President Trump’s potential path to 270 electoral votes. It may be the case that many states might not be called on November 3rd, but even so, the sad part of American politics right now is that only the results in a few special swing-states truly matter. For example, California will be for Biden and Texas is likely Trump. The fear of the election not being decided conclusively, I believe is overblown. For once, Florida may need to be thanked for preventing the country from slipping into electoral chaos. Maybe, just maybe, Florida can finally redeem itself for the 2000 Presidential Election debacle that it put the country thru 20-years ago.
On a personal note — ignore everything I just wrote and “Go Vote!” on November 3, 2020. We won’t know if my analysis is accurate until November 4th and by that time it will be too late to vote and make a difference!
Correction: In writing above, I said freeourvote.com was democratic-affiliated when in actuality it is a non-partisan organization. I want to thank them for bringing it to my attention.