With its growing ethnic, regional and political diversity, Florida is a leading trendsetting state. Since 1996, in four presidential elections it has voted within two per cent of the  nationwide vote. Whites now make up 68% of all registered voters with significant concentrations of Hispanics (14%), Blacks (13%), and a growing number of Asians (2%).

Once thought of as mainly a state dominated by a large senior vote, Florida today also has a wide range of age groups. Seniors (65 and over) make up a smaller share of Florida voters (26%) than either Baby Boomers age 50-64 (27%) or 30-49 year olds (31%). Florida is also a large state with ten different media markets with large numbers of voters from the Midwest, Northeast and the South. 

Florida’s largest media market (registered voters) is the Tampa Bay market (24% of all registered voters), followed by the Miami market (21%). Almost half (43%) of  all Florida registered voters reside in the Tampa Bay and Orlando markets (the I-4 Corridor). Over a quarter (30%) of the state’s senior voters s Democrats live in 3 South Florida counties: Broward (11%), Palm Beach (10%), and Miami-Dade (9%).

November 6th is the official voting day but all registered voters in Florida can participate in early voting at various sites in their county from October 27th until November 3rd. Absentee ballots will also be sent to Florida voters who request them beginning October 5th. The last day to request an absentee ballot is October 31st. In 2008, a slight majority of Florida voters voted early or by absentee ballot.

The most important issue in Florida as in the nation is the economy. Florida's unemployment rate is still above the national average. Statewide, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held steady at 8.8 percent in August, unchanged from July, while adding 23,200 jobs, according to state data. There are 818,000 jobless Floridians out of a labor force of 9.26 million.

Despite a recent rise in consumer confidence, there are still several economic conditions severely slowing Florida’s recovery. August saw a decline of 10,000 people in the labor force, as there are many discouraged workers who have abandoned their search for employment. Meanwhile, gas prices remain high, and consumers should expect increases in prices next year, as the effects of the drought will hit Florida, as well as much of the U.S.

As a refugee from a country where your vote does not matter, I know how precious it is to have the right to vote. It is great that we live in a nation where our government has almost always been responsible to the people through the right to vote. Your vote and voice will not be ignored unless you make the decision to not vote.

An election is not simply a race between two individuals, it is a choice between distinctly different ideals and values and the choice is in your hands. Remember that even your one vote has the power to make the difference in key elections. Just twelve years ago, in the 2000 presidential election George W. Bush was elected by only 537 votes out of millions cast here in Florida.

Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida, is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.