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5480: Miami Haitians say they were unable to vote Tuesday (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

Miami Haitians say they were unable to vote Tuesday
by Ray Sánchez Staff Correspondent

Miami-For Merleine Bastien, the presidential election was an education
in Miami-style democracy. She remembered an old Haitian immigrant who
called her on Tuesday,crying like a baby, because he was unable to cast
his first ballot ever.There was no one at the polling place who spoke
Creole, no one to help guide him through the voting process.  When
Bastien, 41, president of the activist organization known as Haitian
Women of Miami, visited a polling station in Miami's Little Haiti
section, a local election official got in her face and demanded that she
leave. "I thought she was going to assault me," Bastien said. "She
yelled at me, 'You Haitians come here and think you're entitled to
special treatment.'" All day Tuesday, she said, Haitian immigrants were
calling her to complain about being turned away from the polls because
of long lines or identification problems. "Some people just handed the
incomplete ballots back," Bastien said. "They  just didn't vote." At one
elementary school, a Creole-speaking volunteer was told to sit in a
corner and wait for the polls to close. 
"She was ignored," Bastien said. "She couldn't help anyone." Some, she
 said, were even threatened with deportation, although they were
American citizens. Voting irregularities are nothing new in South
Florida, and no one is seriously charging-at least not yet-that the fix
was on Tuesday. But prominent black leaders, including members of the
NAACP, are compiling a litany of complaints they said could force the
U.S. Justice Department to hold a revote here. Rep. Carrie Meek
(D-Fla.), who said she is aware of hundreds of complaints from black
voters, said the national Voting Rights Act,guaranteeing minorities the
right to vote, was thrown out for Election Day in South Florida. 
"The system is not working for us-again," she said. NAACP President
Kweisi Mfume was expected to lead a meeting Saturday morning during
which officials will formally compile complaints from black
people who say they were not allowed to vote. While NAACP officials and
other black leaders would not estimate the magnitude of the complaints,
they described cases in which blacks were harassed by police at the
polls, turned away for various reasons and were not allowed to sign
affidavits giving them the right to vote without having to provide
identification.  "There are credible charges which need to be looked
at," Meek said. Jacques Ricot Mazarin, 57, a bus driver, said his name
disappeared from the records at the Opa-Locka elementary school where he
had been voting for the past decade. He said his wife and one of his
daughters were registered to vote there, but not him. 
 "I am not dead yet," he said. "My name disappeared. I am a registered
 Democrat. I don't think it was a mistake." Bastien said the
approximately 170,000 Haitian immigrants living in Broward and
Miami-Dade Counties have always taken a backseat politically to the
Cuban-American community here. There are roughly 800,000 Cubans in
Miami-Dade. Tuesday's irregularities, she said, amounted to a wholesale
disenfranchisement of one segment of South Florida's black community. 
"It's a continuation of years of gross abuse and neglect," she said. 
"Imagine that in a country like ours, which supervises elections
throughout the world, the rights of voters could be trampled like they
have been here." She remembered the bodies that used to turn up on the
side of dirt roads in Haiti at election time. "I think about Haiti and
all the people who died with a ballot in their hands,all the people who
voted while bullets were raining down on them," Bastien said. "Here, on
Election Day, intimidation and threats and fear rained down  on the