The August 24 Florida primary was an historic opportunity for Haitian-Americans to enter national level politics in the United States. Representative Kendrick Meeks (D) vacated his Congressional seat in District 17, home to the biggest concentration of Haitian-Americans in the country, to run for the Senate. Four Haitian-American candidates emerged as candidates for the District 17 Democratic primary. While their enthusiasm was admirable, several analysts (myself included) warned that if four candidates stood for elections, they would split the Haitian vote, and undermine the chances of a Haitian-American victory. There were calls for them to come together for the greater good, and coalesce around one candidate with the most support in the Haitian-American community and the best chance to win. We noted that our countrymen in Haiti needed the Diaspora support more than ever. Unfortunately, the candidates were unmoved by these calls, and insisted on proceeding with their campaign. As predicted, Haitian-American candidates cumulatively won the race, but split the vote and squandered this rare opportunity.
The division of the Haitian-American vote resulted in the election of a popular African-American candidate, Fredrica Wilson (68). Frederica won 34.5% of the vote and is expected to win the November election in this strongly Democratic district. Haitian-American Rudy Moise came in second place with 16.12%, and the three other Haitian-American candidates received 10.21%, 8.45% and 5.99% respectively. In other words, Haitian-American candidates earned 40.77% of the vote -- enough for a comfortable win. If there were only one Haitian-American candidate, it is likely s/he would have won by an even larger percentage as we could have consolidated resources and mounted an even strong campaign.
Prior to the election, on my blog www.solutionshaiti.blogspot.com , I conducted four informal polls asking which of the four candidates had the best chance to win. To be sure, my polls were unscientific; however, they very accurately that Rudy Moise would get the most amount of support in the primary among the four candidates.
Unfortunately the dream of having national level representation is now over. Haitian-Americans only make up a majority of the vote in very few communities and nowhere more prominently than in District 17. It is incredibly difficult to challenge an incumbent as we also saw last night as the establishment candidates throughout the country beat their challengers even in this atmosphere of “anti-incumbency”.
On the state level, the results were mixed. Unfortunately Alix Desulme lost in District 108 by a mere 356 votes. Better turnout would have certainly edged him to victory. In District 104, John Patrick Julien won with 39.96% -- congratulations to him!
So what are the lessons learned from this experience? If we can get behind one Haitian-American candidate, we have a good chance of winning – and winning handily in areas that are Haitian-American. We also need to turnout to support Haitian-American candidates. They often lose by very small margins, as we saw in District 108, while thousands of Haitian-Americans fail to turnout to vote. Additionally, if we had a truly unified coalition of Haitian Diaspora in the US, this group could be a powerhouse for endorsements and fundraising for Haitian-American candidates. And finally, we have relearned the lesson of our founding fathers: “In Unity There is Strength”!
On a separate note, the Florida elections remind us about what elections should be: free and fair. Unfortunately, our country is now heading into the election season without any hope of free and fair elections. The huge toll on the electoral infrastructure from the earthquake and the totally partisan composition of the CEP (Provisional Electoral Council) have opened an avenue for President Preval to put in place an electoral coup (for additional information see: http://solutionshaiti.blogspot.com/2010/08/will-us-act-to-promote-free-and-fair.html ). The Haitian Diaspora can play a huge role in promoting democratic elections by joining with their countrymen in demanding a non-partisan and upstanding CEP to oversee these critical elections. We can also work together to encourage the United States to hold funding for the elections unless certain changes are made in country, including a reshuffling of the CEP. These measures would go a long way to promoting democracy and transparency in our country.