Absentee Minded

As authorities in Miami-Dade work on perfecting our electoral system, there is one area they might want to tighten up

So you call up Kaplan again and set up an appointment to drive way the hell out to the elections department's new digs in Doral and check out the voter register for Precinct 13. You sit down in Kaplan's office and start going through the register -- a stack of about two hundred pages, with spreadsheet columns from left to right containing each registered voter's name, voter ID number, and party affiliation. One column is for the poll worker's initial and the far right column you figure out is for absentee ballot information. Some entries contain "absentee ballot mailed/issued" in small black type; others "absentee ballot returned/voted." You notice others with "ABSENT" or "AB RETURNED" stamped in red ink. The vast majority are blank. In fact it looks like the vast majority of registered voters didn't vote at all.

You turn the pages rapidly and find your name, between Leocadio Nicot and Elisa Nieves, a couple of 61-year-olds who the register indicates didn't vote or receive absentee ballots. You are comforted to see that, in fact, you did vote. But the far right column is blank, indicating that you did not receive an absentee ballot. Even though you did.

You end up going through the whole list of 2163 registered voters in Precinct 13. According to the list, 29 of them sent in absentee ballots. Another 107 received absentee ballots but did not use them; 9 of them voted in person. You would be the tenth, if only the clerks at the Absentee Ballot Office had indicated that you had received an absentee ballot.

But how many of you were there? If there were just one per precinct, and you all decided to vote twice, that would be an extra 999 votes for your candidate. You're no math whiz, but you can figure out that this kind of glitch could open the door to a lot more extra votes. Five per district would result in about 5000 extra votes (plenty to avoid another Florida cliffhanger like the Bush-Gore contest four years ago). So how would you find out if you were an isolated incident in Precinct 13, or there was some kind of organized voter fraud? Kaplan, the elections department spokesman, says you'd have to sift through all 37,228 absentee ballots that were received for the August 31 election, and crosscheck them with the names on the Precinct 13 register of people who voted in person. (About 118,500 absentee ballots have been issued for the November 2 election.)

If you really wanted to make sure your absentee balloting was airtight, however, you would perform the same exercise with the voter registers for the 998 other precincts. But you're not going to do that now. You're too busy. And with the highly volatile November 2 election looming, so is everyone at the elections department.

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