A flasher voted. He fatally beat his cellmate. A pot-smoking jailer voted. He helped two inmates escape. A convicted ex-Miami detective voted. He covered up the murder of a drug dealer. And a homeless, crack-addicted thief voted. His voting address: the apartment next to the place he burglarized. The Herald counted 105 ineligible felon ballots in last November's mayoral election. But a three-week Herald study reveals no evidence that any candidate recruited the ex-convict vote.
The only thing that keeps felons from voting in any election is an honor system. And when it comes to weeding felons from the registration books, the system simply doesn't work.
Records show about 2,800 ineligible felons registered to vote in Miami-Dade alone.
Statewide, voter fraud by felons is already common -- and growing more pervasive as more and more convicts leave prisons.
The youngest and the oldest who voted in Miami's mayoral election are 21-year-old Dionisio Santana, a former car thief, and 72-year-old Pablo Fundora, who was convicted of concealing a weapon. They agree: They had no idea they were committing a crime by voting.
"Sincerely, I didn't know, " Fundora says.
The law is clear: It's a crime -- a felony -- for any convicted felon to "willfully" cast a ballot.
Ruth Dunwoody, 52, who pleaded no contest to welfare fraud, professes ignorance, too. "I probably forgot to mark the box that asked if I was a convicted felon, " says Dunwoody, jailed for five months in 1990. "No one brought it to my attention."
'NEED FOR REVIEW'
The office of Miami-Dade Circuit Court Clerk Harvey Ruvin is responsible for identifying convicted felons for removal from the voting rolls. "There's a pressing need for a full systemic review of the process, " Ruvin says.
Ruvin also wonders how many votes are cast by noncitizens who tell clerks that they are U.S. citizens.
Under a century-old law, felons and people deemed "mentally incapacitated" can petition the clemency board in Tallahassee to restore their civil rights. Convicts must complete their prison term as well as their parole or probation.
In interviews, many felons express remorse. They deny deliberately breaking the law. Calling themselves believers in the democratic process (71 percent are registered as Democrats), some insist they paid the price for their crimes and don't deserve any more punishment.
"Isn't voting the right and responsible thing to do?" asks Terrence Patterson, 31, a onetime tough guy who feels empowered by the ballot. "I thought the whole point was to get us back into society.
"If I did something wrong by voting, and exercising my rights as an American, then I'll be the first person to tear up my card and say I was wrong."
FAULTING THE SYSTEM
Other felons blame the system for allowing them to cast illegal ballots.
"How is it possible?" asks 31-year-old Juan Borges, an accomplice in a 1992 robbery, "that they'd allow me to vote if it's not legal?"
No matter how haphazard or confusing the system is, "ignorance is not an excuse, " says Carolyn Snurkowski, Florida's assistant deputy attorney general for criminal appeals. A conviction is a conviction. "Even if there are special conditions, it's still a conviction, " she adds.
Felons have been voting illegally for years, but the practice didn't get much attention until recent allegations of organized absentee-voter fraud.
Miami-Dade County election supervisor David Leahy says much of the breakdown occurs because his clerks -- while they can remove names from the current voter rolls -- don't keep a list of convictions for future reference.