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5841: FWD: Haitian Americans say Fla. vote delivers double blow (fwd)
Haitian Americans say Fla. vote delivers double blow
By Shankar Vedantam
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. - If there seems to be no end to complaints about how
Florida conducted its presidential balloting, consider the plight of the
several thousand Haitian Americans who voted in Palm Beach County.
Like others here, many say they were confused by the county's butterfly
ballot, and for them that is doubly painful. Their votes, intended for Vice
President Gore, may have gone to the anti-immigrant Patrick J. Buchanan of
the Reform Party. And the confusion could contribute to the election of Texas
Gov. George W. Bush, opposed by many Haitian Americans because of his
father's policies toward their homeland when he was president.
"It's a fiasco," said Daniella Henry, director of the Haitian American
Community Council for Palm Beach County. "Some of them can't sleep at night
thinking that they punched for Pat Buchanan, who is an extremist, who is
"If all those votes went correctly in Palm Beach County," she said, "Gore
would have won."
Henry guessed that a third of the 50,000 people of Haitian origin in Palm
Beach County were U.S. citizens and that a high percentage of them voted.
Many of the citizens, she said, were exercising their right to vote for the
first time. If the ballot confused experienced voters, she said, it was no
surprise that many Haitian Americans might not understand it.
For the Haitian Americans in Palm Beach County, the choice between Gore and
Bush came down to local issues.
Local, that is, to Haiti.
"Some of the Haitians had a problem with Papa Bush," said Henry, whose group
offers immigration and family-counseling services for Haitians in Palm Beach
County. That is one reason, she said, that Haitian immigrants here
overwhelmingly wanted to vote against "Baby Bush."
Papa Bush? Baby Bush? The nicknames - Papa Bush for former President George
Bush and Baby Bush for his son George W. Bush - were the way Haitians
returned the favor of Americans who conferred similar nicknames on two
presidents of Haiti, she said.
Francois Duvalier, president of Haiti between 1957 and 1971, and his son,
Jean-Claude Duvalier, president from 1971 to 1986, were dubbed Papa Doc
Duvalier and Baby Doc Duvalier.
"When they had the coup in Haiti in 1991, Papa Bush was the [U.S.]
president," said Henry, referring to the toppling of democratically elected
Jean-Bertrand Aristide by the military. "It was a bad experience for the
Haitians. [President Bush] didn't do enough to stop the coup."
Aristide, who was later restored to power in 1994 with backing from the
Clinton-Gore administration, carried the hopes of his nation because he
replaced the ruthless dictatorship of the two Duvaliers.
This is neither the first nor the only time that groups of Americans have
voted for leaders here with an eye toward foreign policy and politics in
Both the Republican and Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate race in New
York, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rick Lazio, did their best to outdo each
other in voicing support for Israel to woo the state's important Jewish vote.
Hillary Clinton, who won the contest, went as far as to return campaign
contributions from a Muslim group that expressed support for the Palestinian
uprising in the West Bank and Gaza.
This election, however, may be the first time that the votes of small groups,
such as the Haitian Americans, could have such a major impact on the
presidency and the continuing confusion about who won.
At Jerome's Caribbean Restaurant in Lake Worth, where dozens of Haitian men
and women converge each day for take-out food, the predominantly Creole
conversation was peppered with references to Gore and Bush. As music videos
of Creole singers played on the VCR, one man produced a treasure from his
pocket: a Gore-Lieberman bumper sticker.
"I don't like the way things are going on," Anglade Joseph said. Referring to
network television's election-night coverage, he said: "At 8 o'clock,
everyone knows Gore wins. At 11 o'clock, he loses. Something wrong happened.
They should do a revote."
"I think I made a mistake," he said of his ballot. "I don't know if I voted
for Gore or Buchanan."
Many local Haitians, Henry said, initially came to this part of Florida to
work in farms and then, as housing development expanded, moved on to
landscaping work. Many, more familiar with the politics of Haiti than the
United States, had not heard of Buchanan until this election.
Henry keeps a radio tuned to a Creole-language station, which has tried to
explain to voters the consequence of their possible error.
By the morning after the election, Haitian Americans were clogging Henry's
office saying they feared they had voted incorrectly.
"Haitians thought they were voting Democrat, and they voted for Pat
Buchanan," Henry said. "I showed them the ballot, and they showed me where
Henry urged them to take their complaints a few doors down in the same
complex of office buildings. That was the headquarters of the local
Democratic Party. Dan Pfeiffer, spokesman for the Palm Beach County
Democratic Party, said volunteer lawyers and notaries set up desks to take
sworn statements from complainants.
"We have in excess of 10,000 affidavits from county voters," he said,
including "a presence from the Haitian community" that he said he could not
quantify because the Democrats had not parsed the complaints according to
The complaints, he said, ranged from Gore supporters who believed they had
voted for Buchanan to those who had double-punched for Gore and Buchanan -
thus invalidating their votes.
"If you have elected a president against the people's will, how are you going
to tell people in other countries how to have elections properly?" Henry
asked. "If you get into power by fraud, what is the message to the world?"
"America is the first person on the scene [in poor countries such as Haiti]
to tell people what to do," she said. "Its own election is a fraud."
Shankar Vedantam's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org