Opinion polls before the Nov. 7 election attempted to distinguish "likely voters" from the rest, often by determining the interest of individuals in the presidential campaign. But sometimes the key factor in voting was not so much individual interest as community organization-and that may have played an especially heavy role in making Florida such a close contest. In a nearly 73 percent turnout of registered voters, many largely African-American precincts in Miami-Dade went overwhelmingly for Vice President Gore. (Predictably, so did heavily Jewish precincts and many Latino neighborhoods, though Cuban-Americans tended to vote for George W. Bush.) Republicans whispered about ballot fraud in some precincts, but no one stepped forward with proof. (The GOP failed to post poll watchers at most predominantly black precincts.) Nothing unusual jumped out in voting records WORLD examined. No precincts with 109 percent turnout, as in Michigan one year. Black church and civil-rights leaders credited a vigorous and well-financed get-out-the-vote campaign to explain the Gore success. According to Richard Bennett Jr., executive director of the African American Council of Christian Clergy, the story in Miami this year was not fraud but a strong stop-Bush vote. He said black leaders, angry at Gov. Jeb Bush's elimination of quotas and racial preferences in Florida, last spring pledged to oppose his brother's bid for the presidency as punishment. Black politicians, the AACCC, the Baptist Ministers Council, and churches statewide joined a national effort coordinated by the NAACP to defeat the Texas governor. Democratic candidates spoke at church services. Many Republicans are reluctant to admit that they were out-organized. They note that when the stakes are high and big labor unions are bankrolling political organizers in large population centers, as happened this month in much of the country, look out. And it is true that "irregularities," misconduct, dirty tricks, and outright ballot fraud are factors in virtually every close national election and many local ones. In most cases, they tend to be isolated incidents, affecting only a small percentage of the votes that are cast. It is also true that liberal balloting procedures in recent years have increased the opportunity for fraud: The National Voter Registration Act-the so-called Motor Voter Registration bill-particularly weakened ballot security. In 1996, Mr. Gore's office pushed the Immigration and Naturalization Service to waive the "stupid rules" on background checks so that hundreds of thousands of people awaiting citizenship could be processed "in time for the 1996 election." Hundreds turned out to be criminals. California's Democratic-controlled legislature repeatedly has fought efforts to require a photo ID for voters. Forty-seven states require no proof of U.S. residence. Historically, absentee ballots, combined with lax record updating by states, pose fat opportunities for fraud. Some people have been shocked to discover on Election Day that someone else has voted for them earlier with an absentee ballot. An Atlanta Journal study found that 5,412 dead Georgians had cast ballots over the past 20 years. Bill Theobold of the Indianapolis Star learned hundreds of thousands of names on Indiana's voting rolls are bogus "because the people behind those names have moved, died, or gone to prison." In Florida itself, Miami Herald reporters uncovered fraudulent votes involving absentee ballots in mayoral races in 1993 and again in 1998. Formerly, third parties in Florida could distribute and pick up stacks of absentee ballots at a time. Administrators of nursing homes, halfway houses, and the like could easily "deliver" large numbers of votes for favorite candidates. But Florida now limits the number of absentee ballots anyone can pick up to two. So suspicions abound-but those whispers minimize credit due to ardent political organization inside and outside of churches. Bishop Victor T. Curry, pastor of New Birth Full Gospel Baptist Church and president of the Greater Miami NAACP chapter, used his church's popular Christian radio station to promote the campaign. Talk shows featured Democratic legislators and candidates as well as an advertising blitz. State senator Kendrick Meek spearheaded an "Arrive with Five" campaign aimed to increase black voter turnout. On the Friday before the election, about 500 people marched from Greater Bethel AME Baptist Church in Miami to Government Center to vote early and publicize the campaign. By the end of the day over 1,100 votes had been counted, officials said. The next day, "Super Sunday," ministers urged their congregations to vote. On Monday, hundreds more were bused to the center to vote early. Some suspicions concern such early voting, done with "absentees in person" status that is normally reserved for campaign workers. "There is no way officials could get those names out to the precincts overnight for cross-checking," Republican lawyer Frank Shepard said. On Nov. 13 in Miami, several reporters accompanied officials into a room to examine names and addresses on some of the envelopes in which absentee ballots had arrived. It wasn't exactly a gesture of trust, and investigation continues-but so far, the story is community organization and turnout.
-with reporting by World Journalism Institute fellow Linda Shrewsbury