Florida Scholarship Parents Turn Out and Influence Senate Special Election

Special elections are historically plagued with low voter interest which translates to low turnout. Couple that with the hottest July on record in Miami and you can understand why the recent special primary election for Senate District 40 had low expectations to generate much voter interest.

Filling this Senate seat with a strong advocate for all educational options is a high priority since the Florida Senate only has 40 members and many of those districts tend to elect lukewarm supporters or actual opponents.  District 40 would fit that mold with voter registration and performance tending to favor Democratic candidates.

The well-covered impact school choice had in Florida Governor Rick Scott’s victory over popular Democratic candidate Charlie Crist in 2014 was the first significant demonstration of how school choice can turn elections in Florida.

American Federation for Children’s Florida political committee, Florida Education Empowerment PAC, knew that parents benefitting from the state tax credit scholarship program could have a key influence in the outcome of the primary election as they were in this same district last November.

Scholarship parents make up about 3% of all registered voters in this district. Yet voting history of these parents shows only about 5% turnout to vote in primary elections while overall turnout is about 25% in a primary. Convincing them to vote in the middle of July in Miami in an off-election year is a daunting task.

In this primary election we had a supportive candidate in both the Republican and Democratic primary so we targeted parents in both parties with the information on our preferred candidate.

Florida Education Empowerment PAC efforts were multifaceted in this campaign. Multiple personal phone calls made by other parents at least three times to each voter, over eight separate emails, and direct mail efforts were implemented. Not only were parents educated on the election and which candidate to vote for, we assisted them in requesting a ballot by mail and early voting locations and times. Those who received a ballot in the mail were called and emailed repeatedly to encourage them to return the ballot.

As expected, none of those contacted knew there was an election but all were receptive to knowing which candidates supported school choice and their scholarship program. When we contacted a split party household, time was taken to educate each voter on the best candidate in their particular primary.  Every single parent we talked to indicated they would support the preferred candidate.

Parent turnout exceeded expectations with 11% of the Republican parents turning out to vote and 8% of the Democrat registered parents voting in the primary.  This compares to 14% of all Republicans and 10% of all Democrats voting in this primary. Considering in a regular scheduled primary election only 5% of these scholarship parents turnout to vote, get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts had a significant impact on turn out.

The Republican candidate we supported, Jose Felix Diaz, won his primary by a wide margin even though his opponent spent about the same amount. Diaz moves on to the general election in September. Democratic candidate Ana Rivas Logan was out spent almost 8 to 1 and unfortunately lost her primary election. However, the margin would have been more without our parent votes.

The same GOTV efforts will be implemented in the general election along with door-to-door initiatives canvassing scholarship and charter school parents.  These parents make up around 6% of all the voters in the district.

As educational options grow across the nation, and more parents utilize these options, school choice parents can be significant players in determining who will represent them in the State Capitols.  It will take the school choice movement to ensure this happens in every state that offers families these options.