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The Bill Nelson Postmortem: It Wasn't Voter Suppression After All

November 21, 2018 - 6:00am
Bill Nelson
Bill Nelson

To the surprise of many following the debacle of the machine counts, the state-mandated hand counting of ballots went relatively well. By the weekend the process was completed in near-competent fashion and the races were declared over. Though he did concede in private with winner Rick Scott, departing Sen. Bill Nelson also gave a farewell video message.

Though it was filled with some expected “never quit” type of prolix, one section later in the segment raises an eyebrow. Nelson addresses the voting issues and he seems to be borrowing some content from Stacey Abrams, the failed gubernatorial candidate in Georgia. Abrams declared her loss was due to unsubstantiated claims of vote fraud, and Nelson trended towards that same kind of explanation in his farewell monologue.

“We must end all forms of voter suppression,” he states in his trademark hoarse delivery. And then, obliviousness takes over, as he continues down this path of conspiratorial race results. “Make it easier for Americans to vote, and honor the ideal that we are governed by the majority and not by the minority rule." There is a curious word selection in that last passage.

“Honor the ideal” is a questionable use by Bill here, given that since Nov. 6, he has dispatched a battalion of lawyers across the state to challenge election laws. Calling to extend established recount deadlines, and even in one case demanding a judge disregard signature verification requirements is essentially disregarding those very ideals. How much “honor” is in play when you are actively trying to rewrite existing voting laws in order to obtain more votes?

But the truth and the verifiable numbers defy the attempt at deflecting the loss. For openers, the GOP had a better turnout overall. Credit to Blaise Ingoglia, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, with a concentrated effort to get conservative people registered. Returns have come back with a roughly 2 percent advantage of registered Republicans casting votes statewide. In six counties that had the highest voter turnout -- Baker, Collier, Franklin, Jefferson, St. Johns and Sumter -- each had +70 percent -- Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis came out ahead. 

Meanwhile, in the biggest counties, which trend a very deep blue, the voters were harder to find. Broward had just over 60 percent showing up to vote, while Miami-Dade had a dismal 57 percent. Talk of suppression and turning voters away with byzantine rules do not fly here, as these districts are run locally, with stalwart Democratic leadership. The embattled and controversial Brenda Snipes, supervisor of elections of Broward, is often pointed to as a problem, yet she has been voted into office three times in her 15-year tenure at that post.

Looking into the returns, some revealing figures are found that not only dispute the voter suppression theory, but also defy some of the conventional thought of the state’s electorate. For instance, one common utterance is that the GOP relied on the “uneducated” vote, while Democrats court the college-educated voter. Rick Scott achieved near parity with the college grads, however, trailing only a few percentage points.

But Nelson’s biggest problems in his campaign were self-induced. Scott had made some deeply significant inroads with Latino voters. He was proactive on Puerto Rico ahead of the hurricane and had made significant policy outreach with those who transplanted to Florida in the wake. Nelson, meanwhile, seemed to take his Latino support for granted. When Scott had Spanish-language websites set up, for instance, Nelson had none.

The influx of Puerto Rican hurricane transplants was expected to be an election day wild card. Some speculated the new arrivals would trend heavily Democrat, but as I mentioned this summer, there was a question as to how automatic this would become.  A high number of transplants registered as independent. And while many settled in Bill Nelson’s Orlando area, he didn't go out of his way to court them, giving light thought to the fact they were new and he wasn't a household name to this new Boricua contingent.  

The result? As the GOP lagged with Latinos by 20 percentage points and higher nationwide, Scott did significantly better, trailing by only single digits. Nelson received just over half of Latinos' votes, contradicting early polls showing him with nearly a 2-to-1 advantage with this demographic.

These are measurable, and thus definable differences in the results. The three-term senator seems intent on using Wednesday-Morning-quarterback methods to explain his loss. The three-term senator wants to point to election “vagaries” and mention how he was greatly outspent by Scott in order to squeeze out the narrowest of victories. 

This is, in effect, his claiming a moral victory. Rick Scott, meanwhile, will be experiencing his actual victory, from an office in Washington, D.C.

Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.

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