A Miami-based LGBTQ advocacy group is looking to harness Broward County’s demographic and Democratic might this election, focusing its ground game on a county that has typically lagged in voter turnout.
Safeguarding American Values for Everyone (SAVE) has been mostly focused on Miami-Dade County since it began in 1993, but its leaders see recent legislation as an urgent reason to shift its focus.
Among Broward County’s nearly 1.3 million voters, 48%, or nearly 600,000 of them, are registered Democrats. In raw votes, that’s enough Democrats to outvote Sumter County five times over. Added to that, the area is among those with the highest concentration of same-sex couples in the country.
But Broward County’s turnout in the last Midterm Election was 2 points lower than the state average. That translates to about 25,072 missing voters — more than twice the margin of victory that put U.S. Sen. Rick Scott in office in 2018. In the 2014 Midterms, the gap between Broward’s turnout and the state average was even more pronounced: 44.6% of Broward voted, compared to 51% statewide.
But Orlando Gonzales, SAVE’s Executive Director, is working so that this year things will be different.
He’s putting boots on the ground and has callers reaching out to raise awareness among Broward voters. A lot of them might not know what’s at stake and why this election is more important than ever, he argued.
“Broward has the power to carry the entire state if the turnout was there,” Gonzales said. “I don’t know if the citizens of Broward are aware enough … to know how powerful they are and to really take advantage of it in a way that would make such a difference in the lives of LBGTQ folks and women.”
His volunteers and staff are striving to promote the argument that Gov. Ron DeSantis-backed legislation is the first to discriminate against the LGBTQ community since the time of Anita Bryant in the 1970s, he said.
They might not be aware, for example, that the Miami-Dade County School Board’s interpretation of a new law meant it rejected schools’ observance of LGBTQ History Month — an observance more than 15 years old. Voters might not also know that the state Education Board passed rules that say teachers could lose their teaching license if they address sexual orientation or gender identity in a way that is not “age appropriate.”
DeSantis said he’s protecting the rights of parents, but his critics say he’s focusing on culture war issues to prepare for an eventual presidential run in 2024. He has swatted down that speculation, but others are unconvinced.
“Steering the outcome of November’s gubernatorial election could be our most historically decisive battle yet,” Gonzales said.
Other LGBTQ organizers are also sounding the alarm about what’s at stake for historically marginalized groups. Those stakes couldn’t be higher, argued Stephen Gaskill, President of Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus.
“Rather than focusing on welcoming the diversity of Floridians, Ron DeSantis spent the past four years launching an aggressive culture war targeting the LGBTQ+ community, aiming to discriminate and intimidate us,” Gaskill wrote in a text. “His ambitions are clear, and that’s what makes him so dangerous. Defeating him this year is the best way to ensure the safety of all marginalized communities.”
Gonzales attributes Broward’s historically low engagement in elections to the “bubble effect” — Broward residents might not see the urgency to vote since they are surrounded by like-minded people and haven’t heard opinions they disagree with at the grocery store, for example. Lopsided victories for Democrats in local races underscore the situation, he said.
“When people think about their day-to-day living, they think about how comfortable it is to be surrounded by other neighbors who think like themselves — they don’t feel the urgency of the political burn on a daily basis,” he said.
Gonzales said his group is a relatively small one — with a staff of four and a $250,000 annual budget — but he’s going to be using data to target voters with no party affiliation and registered Democrats who don’t always show up at the polls.
“We’re doing less of what I like to call the air game and instead we’re focusing on the ground game,” he said. “That’s less social media, less standing on the street with signs and actually rolling up our sleeves and thinking about what doors need to be knocked on.”