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Democrats are pinning their hopes on black soldiers and on the estimated 2,000 Florida voters living in Israel. Related Gully Coverage

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Election 2000

Florida Absentees:
Birds in the Bush?

by Toby Eglund

NOVEMBER 13, 2000. As George W. Bush's skinny advantage in Florida continues to melt away, overseas absentee ballots, which must be in by next Friday November 17, are now the Republican's best hope to win Florida and a quick ticket to the White House.

If that fails, Bush would be forced to go the long and uncertain route of trying to pry Iowa's seven electoral votes and Wisconsin's eight from Gore's clutches, and hope that his own microscopic advantage in Oregon (seven electoral votes) will hold. A patchwork of those states could still put Bush past the magic 270 electoral vote-mark.

Jews and the Military
Florida's overseas absentee ballots mostly come from Florida Jews in Israel, and military personnel abroad. Democrats are pinning their hopes on black soldiers and on the estimated 2,000 Florida voters living in Israel, 90 percent of which are expected to vote for Gore.

The Bush camp expects to do even better with the military than Bob Dole, who they claim got 54 percent of these absentee votes in the 1996 presidential election. While most Florida politicians, Democrat as well as Republican, agree with this forecast, some scholars like Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University, disagree.

According to Moskos, while military officers indeed vote Republican, enlisted men and women divide their votes between the two parties. In a survey he conducted among 320 U.S. army soldiers in Kosovo in September, 32 percent described themselves as liberal, 44 percent as middle-of-the-road, and only 24 percent as conservative. Enlisted personnel outnumber officers 6 to 1. About 37 percent of the active-duty force is non-white.

Florida state authorities have not released official figures about overseas ballots—how many were mailed, how many are already in, how many have been counted, or how many could yet be expected to arrive.

The Palm Beach Post said on November 9 that 7,479 overseas ballots had not yet been returned, out of a total of 15,230 issued by 52 of the 67 Florida counties. All domestic absentee ballots, due by Election Day, presumably have been tallied.

So far, no outright massive fraud has been reported in Florida, although the bungling has been of surrealistic proportions, some of it racially-tinged. However, as the absentee stakes rise, the temptation on both sides to cheat on the overseas absentee ballot could become almost irresistible—if it hasn't already.

Fraudulent Past
The biggest and most recent Florida voter fraud blowout was the 1997 Miami mayoral election, where results were overturned in court partly due to widespread absentee ballot tampering.

xavier suarezTwo of the main protagonists of that scandal are now plugged into the Bush-Gore slugfest, although so far only as supporting characters.

One is ex-Miami Mayor Xavier Suárez, whose slim 1997 electoral win was overturned in court when it was found that his staff, among other fraudulent acts, had tampered with absentee ballots—as many as 4,740, a civil suit later found. Although Suárez' buddy, city commissioner Humberto Hernández, and thirteen other campaign workers and city officials went to jail for this, Suárez himself escaped indictment. Today, he sits on the executive committee of the Miami-Dade Republican Party.

Suárez recently told FEED's Evan Shapiro that he had "helped fill out absentee ballot forms and enlist Republican absentee voters in Miami-Dade County" for the current presidential election. "Dade County Republicans have a very specific expertise in getting out absentee ballots," Suárez reportedly said. "I obviously have specific experience in this myself."

During his tenure, Suárez was nicknamed Mayor Loco for, among other things, showing up unannounced at 10:30 p.m. at the home of Edna Benson, 68, a retiree who had sent him a critical letter. Fearing a burglary, Benson, who was already in pajamas and curlers, grabbed a 38-caliber gun and refused to open the door. Suárez then fled.

Coffey Buzz
kendall coffeyThe other 1997 Miami voter fraud scandal veteran is attorney Kendall Coffey, a Democrat who is now helping Gore squeeze every last possible vote out of Florida's arcane electoral system.

The white-coiffed Coffey, last seen as one of the lead attorneys for Elián's now infamous Miami relatives, became something of a local hero in March 1998 when he got the court to boot out Suárez and order a new election. The appeals court went one step further, throwing out all absentee ballots and installing Coffey's client, Joe Carollo (aka Joe Loco), as mayor of Miami without a new election.

Nailing Mayor Loco, even if it had the effect of putting in the equally unsavory Joe Loco, redeemed Coffey in the eyes of the Miami populace. In 1996, Coffey had been forced to resign his post as federal prosecutor under a cloud of ignominy after biting a dancer's thigh in a strip club.

Playing the absentee ballot fraud game, and getting away with it, may prove even harder in Florida's current fishbowl environment, with the world media sticking their cameras into every corner.

Both candidates, who have suddenly unleashed their armies of the faithful, the ruthless and the clever in the hapless Sunshine State, could benefit from Appellate Judge Rodolfo Sorondo's warning to Suárez : "I will concede that you cannot control everyone," Sorondo said. "But if you let slip the dogs of war, you better keep a leash on them."

Related links:

For Evan Shapiro's story in FEED.

For "Voting Irregularities in Palm Beach, Florida," a statistical analysis of the mistaken Buchanan vote by Greg D. Adams, of Carnegie Mellon University.

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