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 has a nickname for Gaddis' Yellow Cab building on Oakland Park Boulevard: Fort Dimanche. In the past two years, Cadet has staged numerous demonstrations and work stoppages among Haitian drivers, and last October he was arrested for leading dozens of cabs in a slowdown of traffic around the airport. The charges -- failing to obey an officer and traffic rules -- were later dropped, but Cadet's problems had just begun. Gaddis sued for an injunction to keep Cadet from organizing taxi drivers and to seek monetary damages that Gaddis claims he suffered from Cadet's "conspiracy" to interfere in Yellow Cab's business.

Gaddis himself calls Cadet a "nice guy" and says he simply wants Cadet to stop organizing work stoppages. Gaddis claims all the fees he charges are necessary and a cab driver who hits the streets and works hard takes home a minimum of $30,000 a year.

The taxi conflicts are the crucible in which the politics of many Haitian cab drivers have been tempered. But the drivers on this sunny Saturday don't seem worried about their own battles. Instead, they're talking about the presidential contest and how it might affect elections in their home country. (Just this past weekend Aristide won the Haitian presidency in an election marked by mysterious bombings and low turnout.)

Cadet helped Joan Haire to the voting booth (above), then soon returned to work in his cab
Colby Katz
Cadet helped Joan Haire to the voting booth (above), then soon returned to work in his cab

The cab drivers, standing by a trailer where food is cooked, wonder aloud if the controversy in the U.S. presidential election proves that America ought to keep its nose out of Haiti's electoral process. "The government of Haiti should be sending investigators here to decide if the U.S. election was fair," says 40-year-old driver Lionel Bastien wryly.

Many of them also say they want recounts and revotes in Palm Beach County. "Gore won," Bastien says. "We will never vote for Bush! Never! His brother gave him Florida!"

"This is amazing," interjects 43-year-old Emanuel Jossain. "It's a shame. The world is watching us. I voted for Gore, and I want a fair election. Whether it is Bush or it is Gore, I want it to be clean."

The conversation continues, but Cadet has to go. It's rally time. He drives his taxi to Palm Beach County's South County Courthouse on Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach. Already a couple hundred protesters are there, waving signs. Ten minutes later the crowd has tripled. Cars pass and honk as protesters stand by the road waving signs and chanting, "Revote!"

Leading the rally is Carly Richardson, an African-American who works with the Haitian American Community Council in Delray Beach. Richardson tells of upset Haitian voters flooding into her office the day after the election, saying they were confused by the ballot. Richardson says they also complained of getting no help from volunteers at the precincts. "A lot of them were first-time voters, and they were very emotional," Richardson explains. "This was their opportunity to participate, and it was ruined."

Ruined for Haitian voters like Ares Aristild. The 54-year-old Aristild showed up at the Delray Beach rally because he had problems at the polls. When asked what his problems were, he is silent for a time before he manages to say, "I not sure what I vote."

"He no speak English," explains Ismelie Petion, a young woman who came to the rally with Aristild. "He's just confused and doesn't know what happened."

At the rally, clipboard-carrying Democratic volunteers, or "operatives" as they are called, hand out affidavits for registered voters who say they were confused by the ballot. Thousands of similar affidavits have been incorporated into various court battles over the butterfly ballot. While the names on the affidavits are kept secret, a volunteer does allow a reporter to view a few. "The name holes was too close together," reads one. "Double page. Confusing with numbers. Had trouble finding correct number to punch," reads another. A third plaintive voter wrote: "I think I did not vote right."

The most telling reads, "The way they have they vote book that was very dificult to enderstand to vote for Al Gore I thought the second whole that for Al Gore bit it wasn't." This explanation, in its mangled glory, seems to underscore the difficulty Haitians have overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers. In the close Florida election, that barrier could have been enough to put Bush over the top. Bush enthusiasts, not surprisingly, have little sympathy for these problems. They've taken to the streets of West Palm Beach carrying signs that read, "Felons No Vote, Children No Vote, Stupid No Vote," and "Recount Their IQs."

Cadet doesn't seem to register these attacks. To him they're just more people voicing their opinions. His own will not change: He wants a revote and as many recounts as possible. That is justice, and rallies are the key to getting a fair result, he has decided. The next one he plans to attend is scheduled two days later in West Palm Beach. Again Jesse Jackson is scheduled to speak. Cadet isn't about to miss him this time.

When Cadet arrives at the downtown rally at about 4:30 p.m. November 13, it seems Jackson might not speak at all. The civil rights leader has left the makeshift stage area on Olive Avenue after a rowdy band of Bush supporters stationed themselves nearby and heckled him off the stage. "Jesse go home!" they chanted wildly.

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