Columbia University's Pulitzer Prize goes to Miami Herald for helping the loser win the Miami Mayoral Race
In the November 1997 Miami, Florida mayoral race Joe Carollo got 21, 882 votes, Xavier Suarez got 20,638 votes, and the other candidates got 1,560 votes. Because Carollo's 21,882 was only 49.64% of the 44,080 votes cast for Mayor, a run-off was held.
In this election, Carollo won in the machines 20,198 to 17,690 for Suarez; but Suarez won in the absentee ballots by 2,948 to 1,684.
In the run-off, Suarez won by a 2,914 vote margin.
During the run-off campaign, the Miami Herald ran a series of stories about absentee ballot fraud in the first campaign. Carollo alleged that 300 illegal votes had been cast, and that another 480 were cast by "ballot brokers".
The day after the run-off, Carollo went to court asking that the absentee ballots in the first election be thrown out and that he be declared the winner on the basis of the machine vote.
The whole controversy stemmed from the fact that the Miami run-off provision provided that the winner must get 50% of the vote cast for mayor. That provision disenfranchised the 2,101 people who voted in the first Mayoral election, but didn't cast any vote for mayor. Even granting Carollo's claims (which were not correct) he still didn't get the majority of the votes cast in the election. He did win the majority of the votes cast for mayor. But the election generated only a 38% turnout.
If the purpose of run-off provisions is to guarantee that the majority rules, the newspapers and courts in Miami used legal technicalities to defeat majority rule.
First, by providing that the winner must get 50% of the vote for Mayor, rather than 50% of the votes cast in the election, people who vote, but don't vote for mayor are disenfranchised from having any effect on the Mayoral race. In other words, it's illegal to vote "none of the above" or "I want to look the candidates over again, they all seem unqualified." So, the law disenfranched 2,101 voters right from the start. Lawyers and the courts can appeal decisions. But seemingly they don't extend this courtesy to the voters.
(Hawaiians aren't even allowed to write-in votes. The legislature took away the write-in vote, and the Supreme Court decided that write-in votes were not a constitutional right. So, unopposed Hawaiian candidates are elected at the primary, not the general election.)
Even accepting Corollo's claims that 300 absentee ballots were fraudulent, he still fails to meet the 50% threshold to avoid a runoff. Only by invalidating the 480 broker ballots [these are defects with the witness to the absentee ballot, which does not mean that an ineligible person cast the ballot, or that the voter did anything wrong] does Corollo cross the 50% threshold in the Mayor's race. Granting all Corollo's claims, he only crosses the threshold by 236 votes out of more than 43,000 cast.
And he never crossed the 50% threshold if all the votes in the election were counted.
Then, it seems that, in the end, there were only 160 absentee ballots challengable for fraud. To remedy this defect the first judge said there should be a new election; but the appeals court said "No", absentee voting is not a right, it's a privilege and threw out all 4,799 absentee ballots in the first election.
So, the law disenfranchised 2,101 voters. Then the appeals court threw out 4,799 absentee ballots in the first election; and all 44,000 votes in the run-off and declared the loser in the first election the winner; all because of 160 potentially fraudulent absentee ballots.
Then the Pulitzer Prize committee gave the pulitzer to the Miami Herald for its part in this charade. A 236 vote margin out of more than 43,000 is not a mandate. Close elections are a sign of indecision by the voters. Why shouldn't they have the chance to choose again? When there are tie votes in elections (which does happen sometimes) some states choose the winner by tossing a coin.
This trend of the media, the courts, and the police to try and overturn elections because of alleged fraud is dangerous. Political problems need to be solved politically, not legally. This is one of Leinsdorf's basic rules of election analysis. THE CANDIDATE WHO SEEKS TO WIN ELECTIONS IN THE COURTS IS ALWAYS A FASCIST. HE OR SHE DOES NOT BELEIVE IN DEMOCRACY.
Even granting all Corollo's claims, the election in Miami was 98% honest. Can the same be said of the courts, or lawyers, or newspapers that worked so hard to overturn the results of what was admittedly an honest run-off election? The problem is we have become a government of LAWyers and courts who arrogate infallibility to themselves.
In Pennsylvania in 1994, a State Senate candidate who won in the machines but lost massively in the absentee ballots, also got a state judge to throw out the absentee ballots and declare him the winner. He lost his re-election bid in a landslide two years later.
In 1997, when Tony Blair's Labour Party was sweeping to power in the United Kingdom, the incumbent Conservative in the Winchester constituency lost to his Liberal Democratic challenger by 2 votes our of more than 64,000 cast. Claiming irregularities, a new election was held. In the new election that 2 vote margin grew to more than 21,000 (on a smaller turnout.)
Finally, in Monmouth County, New Jersey, in 1995, the Republican Sheriff candidate lost the election in the machines by 545 votes (49,944 to 48,499) but won in the absentee ballots 3,039 to 1,814. The Republican was winning 59.86% of the absentee ballots (compared to Suarez's 61.43%) while losing in the machines. He won the election. Three years later, the Sheriff was re-elected.
Lopsided absentee ballot results are not always a sign of fraud. They can reflect superior organization or candidates favored by wealthy people (who travel and have to be away a lot) and the elderly who can't get to the polls easily.
If you know of any other elections in which the loser won in the machines but lost in the absentee ballots, I would be interested to hear about it. Please e-mail me.
Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf
Return to Institute of Election Analysis Home Page