The election next Tuesday, November 5, will set another marker in the Haitian American journey to political integration in their new country.  All will be watching to discern any noticeable change in the rate of voter participation in precincts where Haitian Americans are known to comprise a majority.  Political pros of course don?t expect much of a difference to emerge from a population they regard as unlikely voters. 

This is after all a mid term election which lacks the excitement of a presidential contest.  And so Haitian Americans can be forgiven for doing no worse than their neighbors with a longer history of citizenship.  Or can we?  Doing so means staying in place outside the category pollsters refer to as ?likely voters.?  These voters are dependable participants in the political process.  The mere intention of their vote strikes fear in the hearts of politicians and public officials.  Not too surprisingly, they benefit from services and programs others dream about.

We considered recently (Haitian Times September 4 ? 10, 2002) Census 2000 reports and the relatively low count attributed to persons of Haitian ancestry.  The total official number rises barely above half a million. The reasons for this undercount are many, but the long and short of it is that a million plus Haitian Americans reside along the eastern seaboard alone.  And as we noted once before, the point is not to find people but more urgently to find and organize voters.

For the longest time, a Haitian American voter was assumed to be a naturalized middle-aged man and woman.  Figures available from the Immigration and Naturalization Service counts 115,389 naturalized Haitians between 1991 and 2000.  The yearly mean between 1991 and 1995, was roughly 6000.  Things spike-up in 1996, with 25,012 naturalizations.  The rate then settles down with 16,477 in 1997, and 10,416; 19,550; and 14,428 in each of the next three years.

All of this is interesting but these numbers are not ones to grab the attention of pollsters, politicians and advertisers. What might, in fact prick their interest is the prospect of US-born children of Haitian immigrants becoming active politically. 

This emerging Haitian American voter is 18 to 25, speaks little Kreyol, and probably has never set foot on Haitian soil. Outwardly he and she are indistinguishable from African American and West Indian neighbors.  But at weddings and christenings, Haitian Flag Day celebrations and any concert featuring the latest Haitian musical sensation, these young people move to a konpa beat.

In one crucial respect, this promising population must part company with fellow 18 to 25 year-old Americans, who for the most part, do not vote.  Factors associated with this phenomenon include cynicism, frequent moves around the country, marrying and purchasing homes later in life. 

A survey conducted by the Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University (Washington Post, October 20, 2002) details this alarming situation. In 1974, the number of 25 year olds who voted was about equal to those 65 years and older. By 1998, the ratio was 2 to 1 in favor of older voters in midterm elections, and 20 years from now, 30% of all voters will be older than 65 and only 8% younger than 25.  The report also documents that in 1974, 30% of all 25 year-olds voted.  This November 5th, 23% of them are expected to vote and in 2022, the percentage may drop to 19%.

In this pattern then lie both danger and opportunity for Haitian Americans.  If young people avoid playing an active role in the political life of the community where they live, work and raise their children, the cost will be appreciable. But if on the other hand, they buck the trend–as they have by doing better than expected at school and better in the ownership of homes and in income growth–the community?s political fortunes will brighten up considerably.

Such a development would defy the odds and would be nothing short of astounding. Young Haitian American voters, positioned in precincts reputed for low turnouts would cause a major revision of political game plans.  And the process to make this happen is nearly effortless compared to the 100-year struggle African Americans waged to earn for black people the right to vote in this country

This feat requires a sustained engagement from the young and the somewhat older, even between elections.  Churches, radio stations and the community at large must ceaselessly insist that the only place to be, on Election Day, is at one?s designated polling place.   This revolution will succeed when voting regularly and voting smart, the entire community earns a ?likely voter? designation.  In person and when necessary by absentee ballot, voting must simply become one of life?s necessities, like the right style of dress, a special dish or a big hug from a favorite aunt.