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.

Cadet says he paced in his kitchen after hearing of Bush's apparent victory and listened as incensed callers to the Broward Haitian radio station WLQY-AM (1320) cried foul. When the networks reversed their predictions and declared the race too close to call, a relieved Cadet tried to rest. But he couldn't. "I feel sleepy, I feel tired," he explains. "But that morning I couldn't stay in bed."

Francois drives north in the right-hand lane at a clip just below 60 miles per hour. The leisurely pace gives the two men time to talk. They alternate between English and Creole and, not surprisingly, the topic is politics. They say they have lots of reasons to vote Democratic, not all of them historical. Democrats, they point out, are far more accepting of Haitian immigration, while most Republicans want to deport them. "Republicans care only about Cubans," Francois says.

Democrats, he adds, reach out to minorities while Republicans traditionally freeze them out. "There are only a few Haitians who support Bush, and they are Haitians who used to work for Duvalier," says Francois, who has an economics degree from Florida International University and a better grasp of English than Cadet. "Some Haitians who are doing good economically also support Bush, because they want the tax cut. Democrats open up their arms to all black people. Affirmative action, for instance. Bush talks about "affirmative access.' What does that mean? Republicans seem only to want more jails. We can't vote Republican because it wouldn't reflect our values and our needs."

Francois says that Haitians are becoming an increasingly powerful political force in Broward County. While concrete numbers aren't known --and some U.S. Census reports estimate less than 35,000 Haitian-born residents in the county -- Francois claims the Haitian community in Broward has grown to number more than 100,000. Perhaps a fifth, he says, are registered voters. "We are no longer outsiders," Francois asserts. "We are part of the system. A lot of us are becoming U.S. citizens. As a community we understand that we need to be involved in the political process."

Even if Bush is eventually declared the winner in Florida, Cadet and Francois are certain that black voters, including Haitians, won the election for Gore in Florida. Broward County alone should have provided Gore a large cushion for victory, they say. They point to the 6686 ballots cast mainly in Democratic precincts on which no vote was registered for President. They bring up the butterfly ballot and the 19,000 double-punched ballots in Palm Beach County, along with the inordinate number of votes for Pat Buchanan. And more important, they point to the record turnout on Election Day.

Across the state blacks mobilized politically in a way never seen before. It was driven, says Gloria Jackson, by black voters' distrust of the entire Bush family, from the former President to the current governor of Florida. She points to Jeb Bush's controversial One Florida plan, an initiative to end affirmative action, as one of the black community's chief motivations to get to the polls. "We saw right through that "compassionate conservative' stuff," she says. "We didn't believe that for one second."

Exit polls indicate that registered black voters in Broward, who number nearly 120,000, had a record turnout rate of about 68 percent (compared to a mere 46 percent in the last presidential election). While Jackson believed Gore would win the state if Broward gave the vice president a margin of 180,000 votes, the votes far exceeded that number, giving Gore a 210,000-vote cushion over Bush. Statewide, blacks made up 16 percent of the vote -- more than twice the average proportion. More than 90 percent voted for Gore, and that's not counting the voters who were turned away. Mitch Ceasar, the Broward County Democratic chairman, says he believes hundreds lost their right to vote because of the logjam of calls to the elections office.

Gore isn't being robbed, the men insist -- they are. A Bush win is unacceptable to them, and that's why they are going to today's rally. "If they count the votes right, we will win," says Cadet, as they look for a place to park in the crowded downtown of West Palm Beach.

Francois then cuts to his core argument. "This is really about civil rights," he says.

The slow drive, it turns out, will cost them. As they arrive in front of the government building just past 3 p.m., Jesse Jackson has already finished speaking. His bus is about to leave. Some protesters remain, but there now seem to be as many reporters and green-uniformed deputies as rallygoers. Small bands of Gore supporters roam the streets, holding signs with slogans like "Don't Mess With Our Vote." At one point they begin chanting, "Re-vote! Re-vote! Re-vote!" If one didn't know better, one would almost think they are calling for a "revolt."

A dozen or so Bush supporters congregate and are approached by a group of Democratic protesters. Blood runs high, and words are exchanged. The Bush supporters call the protesters sore losers. There is tension but no violence, a feeling in the air very much like that between opposing football fans. At times the bickering becomes downright childish, as when a middle-aged Boca Raton woman named Millie Cestone stands on Olive Avenue and, in the manner of a derisive school girl, incessantly shouts, "Clinton is a liiiiar, Hillary is a liiiiar, Gore is a liiiiar, Lieberman is a liiiiar. Liiiiiar liiiiiar liiiiiar!" She shouts this mantra for ten solid minutes.

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