Some Miami employees crossed the line to vote

 

Miami Herald Staff

You vote where you live, right? Well, maybe not -- if you work for the city of Miami.

A Herald comparison of city personnel files and voter registration records found 14 city employees who commute to work -- and also commute to the polls.

They live in places including West Dade, Opa-locka, Carol City, even Broward County. All cast ballots in city of Miami precincts anyway on Nov. 4.

The Herald also turned up eight other employees who live in Miami but voted in commission districts where they do not live.

State law is plain: Voters must vote from their legal residence. It's a crime -- a third-degree felony -- for any "ineligible" voter to "willfully" cast a ballot.

But it's a tough law to enforce.

"The way the law is written right now, we rely on the individual's honesty for . . . legal residency, " said Gisela Salas, the county's assistant elections supervisor. "No provision in the law gives us the authority to go beyond what they're telling us."

EXPLANATIONS VARY

Asked for explanations for the aberrations, city-employee voters came up with everything from silence and ignorance to the bizarre.

* Juan Pascual, promoted since the election to run the General Services Administration, said he was living at his in-laws' Miami home Nov. 4, and not in the Westchester home where he claims a homestead exemption.

"I live on the beach, I live at my in-laws' house and I live here , " said Pascual, reached at the Westchester home. He said he voted for ex-Miami Mayor Joe Carollo and for District 1 Commissioner Willy Gort. "At the time of the election, I lived in my in-laws' house."

The in-laws say otherwise. Pascual's mother-in-law, Noreida Polo, told a reporter that Pascual and her daughter "used to live here when they were first married, but haven't for a long time."

* Alicia U. Perez, an account clerk in the police department, claims a homestead exemption on a home west of Sweetwater. But she voted from her in-laws' home in Little Havana.

"I work in the city and I live there on weekdays, " Perez said when reached on a weekday night at home west of Florida's Turnpike. "I have two houses."

Besides claiming a homestead exemption at her West Dade home, Perez registered her car there. And she listed the same address as her home in city personnel records.

SIMILAR SCENARIOS

Such was the case with other city employees:

* Rene Alfonso, an engineer in the Information Technology Department and a campaign volunteer for Commissioner Humberto Hernandez, claims a homestead exemption in far West Dade. He lists the same home address in city personnel files. Yet he voted from a home in Hernandez's district, where the residents have never heard of him. Alfonso did not respond to requests for an interview.

* Kha D. White, an administrative assistant in the police department, voted at a Liberty City precinct in Commission District 5, even though she claims a homestead exemption in Opa-locka. The residents at White's voter-registration address said she used to live across the street, but moved away years ago. White did not respond to requests for an interview.

* Luis Casanueva, a mechanic with the fire department, claims a homestead exemption in Commission District 1. He cast a ballot at an old address in District 3.

"I moved here two years ago, " a sheepish Casanueva said at his home in Allapattah, miles from the Little Havana address where he used to live with his wife's aunt and uncle. "I have three kids, I'm working on the house, I take classes at Miami-Dade at night. I didn't have time to change my registration, but I will. It was for negligence, not for any other reason. I'm not into politics."

* Juan Jose Rodriguez, a city golf-course worker, bought a house in Broward County last March. But in November, he voted in Miami Commission District 3.

Reached at his home in Hollywood, Rodriguez said, "I moved here four months ago, but I haven't changed my voter registration. I voted in the Orange Bowl for Suarez and I voted for, what's-his-name . . . Humberto. Now I won't vote there anymore."

* Avery Lee Washington, a city parks worker, lives in Carol City in the northernmost stretches of unincorporated Miami-Dade. He cast a ballot in his old Miami precinct, south of Liberty City.

"I used to live in the city of Miami, " Washington said from his Carol City townhome. "I moved from there to here about a year ago. I just never changed my voter registration. That'll be my last time voting in the city."

* Rafael Cobian, a city marina facility attendant, lists his home address in city files at Park Towers Apartments, a subsidized housing complex in Commission District 2. Cobian voted from an East Little Havana address in the District 3 election.

State records show that Cobian bought a used car and registered the title to the Park Towers address on Oct. 30, five days before he voted in an East Little Havana precinct.

A reporter reached Cobian via intercom at Park Towers. Or, at least, the man who answered the call said he was Cobian.

When the reporter identified herself, he said: "Cobian doesn't live here."

Reminded he had just identified himself as Cobian, he said, "Cobian's at work, " and disconnected the intercom.

* For the past four years, city garbage collector Robert Jean-Baptiste listed his address in city records as a home in unincorporated Miami-Dade County between El Portal and Hialeah. But he voted Nov. 4 at a District 5 precinct in Miami's Lemon City neighborhood.

Family members reached at his address in unincorporated Miami-Dade acknowledged he lived at that address outside the city. Jean-Baptiste did not respond to requests for an interview.

TIP OF THE ICEBERG?

While The Herald found 22 city employees such as Jean-Baptiste who voted Nov. 4 in precincts where they do not live, the number may be much higher.

The reason: Although personnel records of municipal employees are public documents, state public records laws exempt from public view the home addresses of police officers, firefighters, code enforcement inspectors and any of their family members who also happen to hold a municipal job.

Police officers alone comprise one-third of Miami's 3,000-plus work force, and thus, neither The Herald nor the public can compare home addresses to voter-registration addresses.

But in the case of city employees such as Cristina Fernandez, city personnel records do reveal a story different from voter records.

Fernandez, wife of WWFE radio talk-show host Carlos D'Mant, voted from the home of her husband's aunt in Miami, the city where she earns her living as an administrator with the mini-city halls program known as Neighborhood Enhancement Teams.

CANDIDATES BOUGHT ADS

Campaign finance records show that WWFE received plenty of ad revenue during the city election season. Then-Miami Mayor Joe Carollo spent $10,455 in a three-week span for radio ads and programs on the station. Commissioner Hernandez -- who ran in the district where Fernandez voted -- plunked down $3,020 for campaign ads and programs on WWFE.

The Herald found Fernandez at a home in unincorporated Miami-Dade, west of the Palmetto Expressway. It's the address she lists as her own in city personnel files, on her driver's license and in state motor vehicle registration records.

"I live somewhere near here, but I don't wish to make a comment, " Fernandez said.

Alicia Perez, the police department account clerk who voted from her in-laws' home, had plenty to say:

"If I lose my vote in the city because of this, they can just take away the [voter's] card, because I'm not going to vote here, " Perez said from the residence where she claims a homestead exemption on Southwest 124th Avenue. "I will just never vote again. Because that's where I want to vote, not here . That's where my property is and where my interests are."

Read more Special Reports - News stories from the Miami Herald

  • The Cuba puzzle

    For Cubans in exile and on the island, what seemed like certain change now looks like more of the same.

  • Fields of death

    For sugar-mill workers in Nicaragua, a fatal disease defies understanding.

  • Fidel Castro

    A look back at the man and his country.

Miami Herald

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category