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Under Florida law, it is a third-degree felony for an ineligible voter to cast a vote. "In Miami, the law is routinely ignored." Related Gully Coverage

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Voter Fraud: Miami Pulp Story

by Toby Eglund

NOVEMBER 13, 2000. The great Miami mayoral election voter fraud of 1997 not only buoyed Democratic attorney Kendall Coffey's fortunes, but netted the Miami Herald a Pulitzer Prize for a seven-part investigative series that reads like a pulp version of the casually corrupt South Florida in a Carl Hiassen or an Elmore Leonard novel.

the banana republicXavier Suárez (Mayor Loco), who defeated Joe Carollo (Crazy Joe) in the mayoral race by a wafer-thin margin, turned out to be as popular among people who did not even live in the county as he was among the poor, homeless, and black. Both categories enthusiastically cast absentee votes for him, the latter paid $10 apiece and shuttled by the hundreds from Overtown, a black neighborhood, to the Miami-Dade County elections office in vans.

"I had no choice. I was hungry that day," voter Thomas Felder told The Miami Herald at the time. "You wanted the money, you were told to vote for...Suárez."

Brazen Defrauder
Non-residents not only cast absentee ballots, but many even went to the polls. The Miami Herald found a number of Cuban-Americans who continued to vote in town even nine or ten years after they had moved to more affluent counties. Most appeared unconcerned, even if, under Florida law, it is a third-degree felony for an ineligible voter to cast a vote. "In Miami, the law is routinely ignored," the newspaper concluded.

russiThe most brazen defrauder was one Alberto Russi, a 92-year-old political boss in Little Havana. Russi was arrested and charged with voter fraud when investigators seized more than 100 absentee ballots from his home. Russi's targets were mostly senior citizens, whose signatures on absentee ballots he was adept at forging.

Russi was found guilty of four counts of voter fraud, a felony. Because of his age, he was sentenced to two years probation, instead of one in jail, during which he was ordered to stay out of politics.

In all, Suárez and his staff were found to have tampered with 4,740 absentee ballots. All were thrown out by the court in March 1998, which allowed the defeated Carollo to claim victory.

Banana Peels
the banana republicIt was a propos of the voter fraud that Miami was first labeled a banana republic—by Dario Moreno, a political science professor at Florida International University who is a Cuban-American, like Sánchez, Carollo, Hernández, Russi, and most others involved in the scandal.

"This would never have happened in a Third World banana republic!" Carollo exulted when the court ruled in his favor in March 1998. But the label reappeared with a vengeance only two years later, when it was Carollo's own City Hall that was pelted with bananas by irate, non-Cuban-American citizens fed up with his Cubano-centric demagoguery in the Elián fiasco.

Related links:

For the Miami Herald's complete seven-part series on voter fraud in Miami's 1997 mayoral election. It won the paper a Pulitzer Prize in investigative journalism. In Archive, go to 1999, Works.

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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