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Dead men voting couldn't do any worse

November 30, 1997

Miami's laughingstock mayoral race is in the hands of a judge, who eventually could decide to order a new laughingstock election.

Defeated incumbent Joe Carollo and the newly chosen mayor, Xavier Suarez, are battling over the mishandling and forgery of absentee ballots, which resulted in at least one verified dead person, Manuel Yip, casting a vote.

In many U.S. cities, this would qualify as an embarrassing scandal, one worthy of vigorous prosecution. But in Miami the term "tainted election" is a whimsical redundancy, and nobody ever goes to jail for stealing votes.

Moreover, judging by the outcome of this fall's political races, you can make a pretty strong case that dead people in Miami ought to be allowed to vote. How could they possibly make worse choices than the living?

Example: 6,063 persons, all allegedly alive and conscious, overwhelmingly re-elected Humberto Hernandez to the City Commission.

Humberto is the adorable young shyster once fired from the city attorney's office for doing outside legal work on taxpayer time. Later he got in trouble for chasing grief-stricken relatives of the Valujet crash victims, a squalid little hustle that Humberto blamed on overzealous staff members at his law firm.

Most recently he was indicted by the feds on multiple counts of bank fraud and money laundering. The governor dutifully suspended Hernandez from the City Commission. On Nov. 4, Miami citizens enthusiastically returned him to office with 65 percent of the vote.

Fittingly, it was Hernandez's support that later pushed Suarez to victory in the mayoral playoffs!

Which raises the obvious question: Is there really much difference between a brain-dead voter and a physically dead voter?

Consider: Miami has spent a year reeling from a bribery scandal and teetering on the brink of fiscal ruin. Nobody in their right minds would, amid such turmoil, willingly put the city's fragile budget within reach of an accused swindleryet that's exactly what living, breathing voters did.

It's a persuasive argument for throwing elections open to everyone, regardless of pulse rate.

Usually when ballots of long-dead residents turn up, forgery is the presumed explanation. I'm not sure that's automatically true in a place as occult as Miami.

Here it's remotely possible that some dead citizens are so appalled by what's happening that they supernaturally find a way to vote from the afterlife, if we give them a chance.

And maybe we should, because I'll bet there aren't 6,063 dead people who would have been caughtwell, dead voting for a guy like Humberto Hernandez.

Admittedly, the plan has a few problems. Since deceased persons would by necessity use absentee ballotsthey are, after all, the ultimate absenteesthe possibility of fraud cannot be ignored. (Perhaps signatures could be checked against those on their Last Wills and Testaments.)

Political purists might contend that even if the dead would vote, they aren't as constitutionally qualified as live people. That position is hard to defend, given what happened here at the polls.

Turnout among living voters was so disgracefully low that participation by the deceased should be welcomed. And no voter is less susceptible than a dead one to a politician's grandiose promises, smear campaigns or cheap scare tactics.

Which brings us to the late Manuel Yip. Perhaps his name was, as alleged, forged on that absentee ballot. But suppose it was the real deal. What if it was an impassioned voice from The Beyond, a voice of conscience pleading: "What are you bozos doing to my city?"

Miami politics has caused lots of good, decent folks to roll over in their graves. Next time, let them cast a ballot. At this point, what could it hurt?

It won be hard to fill Miamis Crooked seat July 31, 1997 | Kick Ass: Selected Columns of Carl Hiaasen | Miami Voters create new kind of open election December 14, 1997