YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Florida's Typical Election Day Is Often a Nightmare

Vote: For now, reports of abuse, irregularities from Pensacola to Plantation are mounting as fast as ever.


MIAMI — Beneath a 30-foot banner proclaiming "Election Day Irregularities," emotional if unverified charges poured forth from a community center stage here Saturday like a sordid list of Third World abuses.

Just how bad was Florida's now infamous presidential election?

In Plantation, an elementary school polling place was demolished three weeks before election day, but many voters weren't told of the new polling site, angry witnesses claimed. In Orlando, students who registered online found their names had not been entered on the rolls.

In Miami-Dade County, others complained, poll workers refused to let them vote despite valid registration cards. Among them was a black lawyer, who had brought her 5-year-old son to show how we elect our presidents. The boy left in tears, she said.

Elsewhere, completed ballots were strewn on tables or handed out as fresh to incoming voters, some claimed. And at least four ballot boxes were forgotten overnight in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the witnesses said as a court reporter recorded their statements.

Enter Miami police Lt. Diego Ochoa, a 26-year veteran, who said his officers had impounded and sealed as evidence a locked ballot box that was mysteriously discovered at a Sheraton Hotel here Friday--three days after one of the closest, most contested and weirdest elections in American history.

From computer-disk glitches in Volusia County to allegations of forged absentee ballots in the Florida Panhandle to missing ballot boxes in Miami, it was, well, a fairly typical election day in the state that will determine who will be the next U.S. president.

As scores of Democratic and Republican lawyers scoured the state to take depositions and collect ammunition for what appears a historic legal battle ahead, all that was missing in this state of confusion and chaos was a dead voter. There hasn't been one of those here in nearly three years.

So far, no one is alleging conspiracy or fraud, as had bedeviled the state so often. Instead, Florida's election process appears a victim of poor state oversight, antiquated technology, poor training and an astonishing level of human bungling.

"Florida, unfortunately, once again finds itself on the national stage," declared Barbara Arwine, the California native who heads the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, from the stage of Saturday's NAACP "Public Hearing" in Miami's Little Haiti.

"This is not new," she told an audience of several hundred people. "Florida has had a rich history of voting rights abuses."

But, with the eyes of the world on it and so much at stake, especially in South Florida, where the wounds of the Elian Gonzalez affair remain raw, reports of abuses and irregularities from Pensacola to Plantation are mounting far faster and more furiously than anyone can recall.

They're stacking up so fast, in fact, that an estimated 6,000 formal complaints from angry voters who claim they were disenfranchised have filled a box that Democratic Party lawyers had set up and were guarding in Tallahassee.

"I was dumbfounded," said Mark Herron, the local attorney hired by the Democratic National Committee to coordinate Florida's continuing recounts. "I said, 'What's this huge box?' "

The box and the stage at the hearing chaired by Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People--who will report the findings to the Justice Department this week--are defining images of a state long known for sordid politics, scandalous elections and potentially volatile racial and ethnic tensions.

"We were providing transportation for elderly and other voters," Broward County resident Fumiko Robinson told the hearing. "People were told they were not allowed to vote at the same place they had voted before. A lot of them got very discouraged." Some longtime Florida activists insist this year's abuses were as unprecedented in number as the state's huge voter turnout.

"Many of these violations, although they have happened before, I never recall them happening in this record number," said NAACP Florida President Adora Obi Nweze, who testified Saturday that she too was nearly disenfranchised last week because poll workers wrongly asserted that she already had cast an absentee ballot.

Still, beyond the disputed Palm Beach County butterfly ballots, a closer look at a few of the state's lesser- and better-known counties indicates that last week's presidential vote was, for all its flaws, pretty much business as usual for America's southeasternmost state.

In tiny Nassau County, north of Jacksonville, Elections Supervisor Shirley King, who is retiring after 20 years, said she has made it a point to recount every set of ballots by hand. Routinely, she said, some voters mistakenly circle their choices rather than punch them; others don't punch the holes clean through.

But King hasn't done her recount yet this year. She said she hasn't been able to reach the other members of the canvassing board. "They won't return my calls."

Los Angeles Times Articles