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Court Decision Returns Ousted Miami Mayor To Office Judges Throw Out All Absentee Ballots Cast In November Voting

Thu., March 12, 1998

A state appeals court Wednesday returned Joe Carollo to the mayor’s post he lost in contested balloting four months ago and ruled there was no need to rerun the mayoral election that a judge overturned last week.

Carollo won a majority of votes from polling places in a Nov. 4 election, but Xavier Suarez’s overwhelming advantage among absentee ballots forced a runoff between the two men, which Suarez won on Nov. 13. Carollo sued to overturn the Nov. 4 vote, claiming there had been widespread fraud among the absentee ballots.

State Judge Thomas Wilson agreed and ordered a new election, leaving the city without a mayor in the meantime.

But a three-judge panel of the State Court of Appeal for the 3rd District threw out the absentee ballots Wednesday and said the election should be decided by the votes at polling places.

“Were we to approve a new election as the proper remedy following extensive voting fraud,” the judges wrote, “we would be sending out the message that the worst that would happen in the face of voter fraud would be another election.

“We refuse to disenfranchise the more than 40,000 voters who, on Nov. 4, 1997, exercised their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote in the polling places of Miami. Unlike the right to vote, which is assured every citizen by the United States Constitution, the ability to vote by absentee ballot is a privilege.”

Whether this ends the fight over the election results is unclear. Suarez said he would sue in federal court, under the Voting Rights Act, in an effort to be returned to office.

Carollo’s lawyers said they thought it was unlikely that the Florida Supreme Court would hear the case.

An elated Carollo met with reporters outside City Hall within an hour of the ruling.

“This is what a democracy is all about,” he said exultantly. “This is why America is the greatest country in the world.”


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