One Man, One Vote

Haitian immigrants like Gerlyn Cadet know in their marrow that a ballot is a precious thing. But this election leaves them feeling robbed.

Through it all, the Haitian immigrant would prove that American politics, no matter how low it sinks, is still driven by the myriad inspirations of people like Gerlyn Cadet.


Cadet's first stop is the Melrose Park Community House, a polling place in a predominantly black section of Fort Lauderdale. There Gloria Jackson hears from precinct volunteers that there is a record turnout and also confirms that several voters have been turned away. "Everybody is scared of what will happen if Bush gets in," Jackson says to no one in particular as she leaves.

From there it's east on Broward Boulevard to the downtown governmental center. Cadet and Jackson walk down the cave-like hall on the first floor to the elections office, where workers sit at their desks, almost all of them on the phone. Jackson gets the attention of Evan Kolodny, an office manager she knows. She asks Kolodny, a big, gray-haired man whose usually calm demeanor seems uncharacteristically harried, if Supervisor of Elections Jane Carroll is available. He disappears into a back room for a few minutes before re-emerging. "She isn't seeing anybody now," he says.

So Jackson tells Kolodny about the complaints of voters who are being turned away because their names are not on the precinct lists.

"I know," Kolodny responds, throwing his arms in the air. "We're overwhelmed. Most of these are address changes from people who never bothered to tell us. We're having major problems keeping up with this."

"Is there a special line I can give them to get through?" Jackson asks.

Kolodny gives her his own extension but warns her that few people are getting through even to him.

"You need more staff," Jackson admonishes Kolodny, who shrugs. "And you need to have Haitians working in those precincts."

Another Democratic volunteer in the office tells Jackson of news circulating among ground-war soldiers: In some Palm Beach precincts, if you punch the ballot for Gore, you actually vote for Pat Buchanan.

"Oh my," Jackson says. "That's terrible."

Cadet, who has been waiting quietly for Jackson, next ferries her to Joe Carter Park, another predominantly black Broward precinct. While Jackson is inside the polling place, Cadet spies a tall, aging black woman outside the building who seems to be in need of help. She stands with one arm resting on the building, her face contorted in pain. A man, already there to help, kneels behind her feverishly rubbing the back of her leg. She cries out in a way that makes onlookers cringe. While others idly stare or turn away, Cadet hurries over and helps her to a nearby chair. With a coolness and assurance that suggests the manner of a professional physical therapist, he slips off the woman's shoe and massages her foot and calf. The woman, whose name is Maggie West, sighs with relief. Her face relaxes, and she smiles at Cadet.

"Oh, thank you," West says. "I was working inside, and I was just sitting too long on that hard chair in there. I must have cut off the circulation. It hurt so bad!"

As Cadet puts the woman's shoe back on, Jackson exits the building. There are more stops to make.

After returning Jackson to the Lauderdale Lakes campaign office, Cadet drives to the Democratic headquarters in Sunrise, where he is assigned to help a 63-year-old wheelchair-bound widow get to the voting booth. The woman, Joan Haire, has a badly fractured foot and no ride. She's stuck on the second floor of her apartment building in North Lauderdale.

Soon Cadet and two other volunteers are on their way. They find Haire waiting anxiously outside her door at the top of a stairwell and carefully lift her wheelchair and carry her down to a van. Thirty minutes later she punches the ballot for Gore.

"I waited out there for them because I wanted to make sure they saw me," Haire says. "I was ready to go. I am ever so grateful, and they were so nice. Bless their hearts. This is one thing I truly wanted to do as an American."

In the hectic days to come, in the maelstrom over recounts and the cries for revotes for the presidency, no one could know better than Cadet what a single vote is worth. And no one could tell him that Gore didn't win Florida, either. He was there. He fought for it. He won. Bush lost.


Cadet -- who goes by his middle name, Leslie -- learned about the high stakes of politics as a little boy in the village of St. Louis in Haiti. His education started with something as basic as trees. In need of fuel, peasants cut down almost all of the trees that grew in the mountains outside the town. The dictator in Haiti at the time, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, did nothing to stop the destruction. Cadet says Duvalier wanted the trees gone to deny his political enemies a hiding place. Whatever the motivation, the island nation was almost entirely deforested. The results, predictably, were calamitous. The soil, without roots to hold it firm, washed to the sea, destroying the country's crops and, ultimately, its economy.

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