Thursday, August 26, 2004


Absentee ballots on sale in Miami

Just finished reading a Slate article by Ann Louise Bardach: "Why is Florida's voting system so corrupt?" If you're a Floridian, or you just want to see what we're facing in this election, you should definitely read it.

But as an avid follower of Florida's corrupt voting system, there was little in the article to surprise me, until I came to this:

Buying ballots is another current problem. In 1998, an election volunteer was caught selling ballots to undercover agents. And just last week, the Cuban exile columnist Max Lesnik reported that absentee ballots were being sold on Miami's Calle Ocho for $25 apiece.

I've searched for Lesnik's writing on this (it's mostly in Spanish), but could find no mention. However, Lesnik also has a radio show in Miami, so it could have fallen below the search-engine radars.

If anyone can find a reference, please pass it along.

Meanwhile, Bob Herbert of the NY Times has been conducting what appears to be a one-man crusade to expose intimidation of elderly black voters in the Orlando area by Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigators.

The officers, from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which reports to Gov. Jeb Bush, say they are investigating allegations of voter fraud that came up during the Orlando mayoral election in March.

Officials refused to discuss details of the investigation, other than to say that absentee ballots are involved. They said they had no idea when the investigation might end, and acknowledged that it may continue right through the presidential election.

The state police officers, armed and in plain clothes, have questioned dozens of voters in their homes. Some of those questioned have been volunteers in get-out-the-vote campaigns.

I asked if all the people interrogated were black.

"Well, mainly it was a black neighborhood we were looking at - yes," he said.

He also said, "Most of them were elderly."

When I asked why, he said, "That's just the people we selected out of a random sample to interview." [emphasis added]

Gee, who would have guessed that a random sample of voters in the Orlando area would have turned up so many black elderly voters? There's been quite a change in the demographics of the area since I last looked.

In a follow-up column of August 20, Herbert writes,

It turns out that a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation, in which state troopers have gone into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando in a bizarre hunt for evidence of election fraud, is being conducted despite a finding by the department last May "that there was no basis to support the allegations of election fraud."

State officials have said that the investigation, which has already frightened many voters and intimidated elderly volunteers, is in response to allegations of voter fraud involving absentee ballots that came up during the Orlando mayoral election in March. But the department considered that matter closed last spring, according to a letter from the office of Guy Tunnell, the department's commissioner, to Lawson Lamar, the state attorney in Orlando, who would be responsible for any criminal prosecutions.

The letter, dated May 13, said:

"We received your package related to the allegations of voter fraud during the 2004 mayoral election. This dealt with the manner in which absentee ballots were either handled or collected by campaign staffers for Mayor Buddy Dyer. Since this matter involved an elected official, the allegations were forwarded to F.D.L.E.'s Executive Investigations in Tallahassee, Florida.

"The documents were reviewed by F.D.L.E., as well as the Florida Division of Elections. It was determined that there was no basis to support the allegations of election fraud concerning these absentee ballots. Since there is no evidence of criminal misconduct involving Mayor Dyer, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement considers this matter closed."

And how are the officers going about their "investigation"?

The officers were armed and in plain clothes. For elderly African-American voters, who remember the terrible torment inflicted on blacks who tried to vote in the South in the 1950's and 60's, the sight of armed police officers coming into their homes to interrogate them about voting is chilling indeed.

One woman, who is in her mid-70's and was visited by two officers in June, said in an affidavit: "After entering my house, they asked me if they could take their jackets off, to which I answered yes. When they removed their jackets, I noticed they were wearing side arms. ... And I noticed an ankle holster on one of them when they sat down."

Though apprehensive, she answered all of their questions. But for a lot of voters, the emotional response to the investigation has gone beyond apprehension to outright fear.

So while absentee ballots are for sale on the main street of Cuban Miami, the FDLE is investigating a closed case in Orlando among blacks.

And the nice thing about these freshly minted ballots on sale in Miami is that after the 2000 election, the Florida legislature (Republican, of course) removed the requirement for an authenticating witness's signature on those ballots. More convenient, less fuss.

Related post: In case you're worried about the November election...

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