Miami At least 445 Florida felons voted illegally on Nov. 7, casting another cloud over a disputed presidential election already mired in legal challenges, an investigation has found.
The tainted votes found in a review of nearly half a million votes cast in 12 Florida counties provide evidence that the presidential race was influenced by thousands of ineligible voters. Nearly 6 million voters in Florida's 67 counties cast ballots.
They also point out the failure of Florida's multimillion-dollar effort to prevent election fraud by eliminating dead and illegal voters from the registration rolls.
"This just goes to show that the most expensive voting equipment in the world is worthless when the voting rolls are that filthy," said Deborah Phillips, president of the nonprofit Voting Integrity Project in Arlington, Va. "It's just an invitation to lower the integrity of the election."
The majority of the illegal votes 330 were cast in Palm Beach and Duval counties, which decided not to participate in the statewide effort this year to purge felons, dead people and double registrants from the rolls.
Elections supervisors in those counties argue the state database compiled by the Florida Division of Elections, at a price of $4 million, was peppered with errors and mismatches.
Even so, most other counties including Miami-Dade and Broward used it to scrub thousands of ineligible voters from the rolls, as required by state law.
The lapses in Palm Beach and Duval counties could become significant if Democrats win any of their legal challenges and take the narrow lead away from Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Nearly 75 percent of the illegal ballots discovered were cast by registered Democrats.
The votes could be seized upon by the Bush campaign to argue that a large number of illegal votes were probably cast for his opponent, outweighing the effect of any recount.
Since 1868, it has been illegal for felons to cast ballots in Florida, one of 14 states with an arduous paperwork process for felons to have their rights restored.
The review found 62 robbers, 56 drug dealers, 45 killers, 16 rapists and seven kidnappers who cast ballots. At least two who voted are pictured on the state's online registry of sexual offenders.
"There are a ton of us out there," said William Herman, 37, of Lake Worth, Fla., sentenced to five years in prison in 1989 for negligent homicide with a motor vehicle. "It shouldn't be that way, but when they give you a voter registration card, hey, what are you supposed to do?"