"Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk."
A new decade, the 1980s, found us living up at a yoga ranch near South Fallsburg, New York, in the Catskill Mountains, studying karate, yoga and meditating. Shakti, whose real name was Elizabeth, was with Ken and they were married at the ranch by Swami Vishnu. Their daughter, Unity, was born there in November of 1980.
One of the students at the ranch owned a bean sprout business which he wanted to sell. He taught us how to grow sprouts in bathtubs in dark rooms, harvest them, bag them and sell them by the pound.
Sprouts brought in so much revenue that we decided to leave the ranch and start our own route in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. We made money instantly. Our "Heartland Sprouts" became the best-selling alfalfa and mung bean sprouts in the city. Winter came and Jim decided to go back to the warmth of Miami and leave the business to Ken and Shakti. He lived in the black belt quarters of Larry Pizzi's Shori Goju dojo, near the Lincoln Road Mall, and managed the karate school.
In the summer of 1982, a revival was planned for the California rock group, Mamas and the Papas, with Spanky of Spanky and Our Gang playing the dead Mama Cass and McKenzie Phillips, the daughter of John and Michelle Phillips, playing her mother's part.
Ken read about it in Billboard Magazine and invited John Phillips to do a show on top of the World Trade Center. They met on the helicopter pad on top of the Trade Center one cold day in February. An icy wind off New York harbor whipped around the two of them. John said no to the venue. A nice warm concert in Florida seemed a whole lot better to him.
Ken called Jim: "John will play Florida if you can raise the money."
"Hell, I don't have a penny."
"That never stopped you before."
So Jim raised twenty thousand dollars, found the auditorium, bought rock radio advertising, and had the tickets printed and distributed.
Ken sold the sprout business to an organic food dealer in Queens and came down in time for the concert.
The new Mamas and Papas did all the sentimental old hits, like California Dreamin, and Monday, Monday. They made the audience glow with nostalgia. The press loved them. But that same night a rock group called The B-52s opened at Pirates World about 20 miles away, and almost everybody who didn't remember the Sixties, which was everybody under 25 years old, went to listen to The B-52s. We had an artistic success and a financial flop.
In 1982 we got back into the newspaper business. We had seen posters all over town with the banner, "The Fighting MacKenzies." The poster pictured a young, pretty blonde woman flanked by two men. It looked like an advertisement for a singing group out of the Forties. The poster said that Christina MacKenzie was running for a seat on the Metro Dade County Commission, and that her father Donald and his brother Douglas were running her campaign.
After reading their literature, Jim figured her to be honest but naive. He saw "The Fighting MacKenzies" as either a crock or as a possibility to recruit professed fighters into the frey [sic]. He telephoned Christina to warn her about vote fraud in Dade County and to hear her reaction.
Don MacKenzie got on the line.
"Who are you?" he asked.
Jim explained vote fraud in Dade County. Then Ken took the phone and got deeper into the discussion. After a while Ken's voice raised in tone as he got short of temper. It was the sound of two hardheads bashing. From the start MacKenzie made it clear that he wanted to take control of any future negotiations between us. But Ken couldn't possibly let someone he thought was an amateur, who didn't have a clue as to what was really happening, start dictating. It degenerated into a screaming match and we hadn't even met the guy.
Suddenly MacKenzie shifted gears. "Meet me in my office at the Hialeah Home News and we'll talk about it," he said calmly.
"What do you do at the Home News?" Ken asked.
"I'm the managing editor."
That afternoon we met MacKenzie. He was a Scotsman built like an Isuzu. He had a barrel chest on a frame that stood about five feet seven inches tall. His red hair was combed into a flattop pompadore [sic] and it was never messed up in public. He habitually wore a black suit, black vest, white shirt and dark necktie, even in the summertime. On less formal occasions he wore his Marine Corps major's camouflage jacket.
MacKenzie was born in Detroit and he spoke in the unaccented way that Detroiters (who make good radio announcers) speak. He had been a legislative aide to Michigan Congressman Guy Vander-Jaght [sic] before abandoning politics to bring his family to Florida in the early Seventies. There were hundreds of "war stories" about MacKenzie as an FBI and CIA operative, but most of them shouldn't yet be told in print.
Within a few weeks we were members of the Hialeah Home News staff, along with Bill Tucker, a rewrite man who was so fast and stylish that his talent was legendary in the Deep South. He looked like a wrinkled Chinese fighting dog with a fat black cigar sticking out of his grumpy jaws.
The Hialeah Home News was a 40-year-old suburban newspaper that once served the community news to the crackers and horse people near the Miami Airport and the Hialeah Race Course. Now it was owned by an ex-FBI agent who had installed his buddy, MacKenzie, as managing editor.
The paper had a tradition of looking into stories other county papers wouldn't investigate. It was the last bunker of independent journalism in Dade County.
We now had a forum for the first time since we lost our Dell book contract and the Planet folded. And we had an editor who was on our side.
"Are you one-story guys?" MacKenzie asked.
"No, we'll do other stuff," Jim assured him, already feeling at home in the glass-walled city room. "We had a paper called The Daily Planet in the Seventies. What have you got in mind?"
"They got a moratorium on building down on South Beach. Nobody's allowed to improve their property under penalty of arrest. You want to look into it?"
We agreed as long as we could also crank up Votescam stories. The next day we found ourselves knee-deep in Miami Beach politics.
It was October.
For the "South Beach" section of Miami Beach, which is south of 16th Street and all the way down to Government Cut where the big boats and cruise ships come into Biscayne Bay, there was a moratorium, declared by the Miami Beach City Council, on any kind of home improvement or building. The property values of the old Art Deco hotels and apartment houses plunged. If you couldn't fix them up, you had to rent them to the most indigent of the Cuban exiles (the ones nobody else wanted). They trashed the buildings and rents hit bottom. Property owners lost their nest eggs. We wrote that this local depression was a vicious plot by the creators of the Dade County "master plan" to choke out the old owners and then buy up the land and the buildings for a fraction of their real value.
It would take several years of crusading against this injustice before Miami Beach Mayor, Norman Ciment, ended the moratorium. The damage had already been lethal.
One day in late October the Home News editor-in-chief, Elmer Rounds, a six foot plus, 250 pound Southerner with a droll sense of humor, handed us a press release from the Republican National Committee. The first word we saw was REWARD and the number $5,000.
"What can you do with this?"
We read the release signed by RNC chairman, Richard Richards:
"It has saddened us to learn that vote fraud still exists in certain areas of this country," Richards said in a letter to fifty Secretaries of State.
"Since the right to vote is the keystone of all other rights we cherish as Americans, any dilutions of the vote by fraud or error must be stopped."
The RNC reward offer said that any citizen who gave information leading to the arrest and conviction of any official who violates state or federal laws against vote fraud would receive $5,000. It went on to say:
"We have established telephone numbers that will be manned by attorneys who will assist in putting them in touch with the proper state and federal officials who will proceed with such complaint."
"I can't believe it," Ken said. "Do you think someone in Washington has finally gotten off their ass?"
"MacKenzie brought you guys in to deal with that story, so look into it," Rounds said.
We hadn't gotten a major break in the Votescam story for eight years, but a day before the 1982 primary we received a pamphlet in the mail entitled Don't Get Punched Out, written by Robert Corcoran, a radio newsman from the West Coast. The point of it was that the card-counting computer is a "black box" operation that had been used to rig elections in California and other states. He warned that a very dangerous situation was developing in America. The vote, he warned, was being stolen in counties from Maine to California.
He said that anyone using a punch card to vote with had no idea what was going to happen to their card after they punched it. There were no safeguards. In the California races Corcoran had studied, there was no way to verify a vote because fraud was so easy to perpetrate and so hard to detect.
In Dade County we had also heard from "concerned citizens" who came to us after witnessing the new-fangled computer vote being counted. They told us that members of The League of Women Voters, a private political club, were sitting up there in the Data Processing Center on Galloway Road, punching holes in the vote cards. It was exactly that kind of fraud that Don't Get Punched Out warned about.
It seems these "volunteers," were actually worth $15 an hour per head to the League's treasury. Their salaries were paid by the Dade elections division from taxpayer money directly to the League.
We knew that if such an activity were taking place, it was expressly forbidden by state and federal law, which prohibits any "handling or piercing of the public's ballots by anyone except the voter."
One of our early informants was an older, woman who entered the Data Center after getting her name pre-approved by the election supervisor. Without a security check, she said, she couldn't have gotten in.
"You mean in order to see the vote counted the board of elections has to pass on you first?" Ken asked. "That's unconstitutional."
"That's what they told me," she said.
She reported seeing members of the League using little black pencils issued by the election division to punch out new holes in the vote cards. She explained that new holes could either become a new or different vote, or invalidate an existing vote by punching out both sides.
"Are you sure?"
"I saw it with my own eyes," she said.
"Five thousand dollars per person arrested and convicted," Jim salivated. "How do we get it?"
"Well, it seems to me that we need to get proof that they're punching holes in the ballot cards and bring it to the RNC."
"How are we going to get in the building, it's a bunker And even if we got in, how do we prove it?"
"Videotape." Ken suggested.
"Great idea. But first let's call the elections supervisor and see what he has to say about the League punching holes."
The new supervisor was David Leahy, a man in his thirties, with dark blonde hair done in a close bouffant.
"We'd like to videotape the proceedings at the Data Processing Center," Jim said.
"You haven't been issued credentials, Mr. Collier" he replied patronizingly.
"What kind of credentials?"
"Only candidates, and those with credentials, are allowed to be up there. And no cameras or video equipment is allowed."
"That's patently unconstitutional, and illegal on top of it. People have a right to see their vote counted, David." Jim tried to level Leahy's attitude by using his first name. "You can have a secret ballot but you can't have a secret count. We're coming over to videotape."
"If you try to come into the building you will be arrested by the guards at the gate." Leahy hung up.
Jim turned to Ken: "We need a plan. We can't get in that building past the guards, past the video cameras, without getting busted.
"We're going to need some kind of credentials."
"We could say that we're Herald reporters."
"But we need credentials."
"No," Ken figured, "all we need is a Herald reporter covering us... in other words, we've got to get the Herald to take Leahy's arrest threat seriously and assign a reporter to cover it."
"That's right. If we get in with a Herald reporter they can't stop us."
We went to see Jim Savage, the editor in charge of investigative reporting for the Miami Herald. His office was a cubicle in the Herald city room overlooking Biscayne Bay. Savage was a testy guy in his fifties and he listened as we laid out the three different votescams we had investigated: The Blank-Backed Canvass Sheets; The Forgeries and The Printomatic. We put it all up on a blackboard. A reporter named Bob Lowe, a Hawaiian who had won two Pulitzers and wasn't yet thirty took notes. Savage assigned Lowe to go up to the Center and wait until we showed up with our video camera. The assumption was that he'd do the story about it if we got in, and maybe even if we got turned away.
MacKenzie rented a color, sound, hand-held video camera.
On election day November 2, at about 6 p.m., we drove to a precinct in a schoolhouse on Miami Beach and walked in with the video camera. MacKenzie, wearing his FBI-style dark suit, drove up behind us in his brown Buick Regal. We didn't take any pictures inside because it was too early. The polls didn't close until 7 p.m. But we told the precinct captain that we were going to videotape his precinct after 7 p.m..
Jim said: "We'll follow your precinct's cards from the time that they open the ballot box shortly after the polls close, until the votes are finally reported at the Data Processing Center. We just want to follow its route."
"You can't stay in here after seven," the captain said. "We lock the doors."
"You mean you lock the public out?" Ken asked.
"Yes, so that nobody interferes with the counting process."
"That is illegal, my friend." It was MacKenzies voice and it was firm. "Go call Leahy and tell him we're going to stay here because it's illegal to lock the doors against the public after seven."
The captain's face was serious and red. He went into his office, we hoped, to call Leahy.
As soon as he left, we disappeared down the road. We drove to a different precinct a mile away and at 7 p.m. we entered with the video camera and said that we were from the Herald. Nobody stopped us.
Ken taped the precinct captain opening the voting box full of punchcard ballots that were stuffed inside their security envelopes. Several of these ballots fell to the floor and Ken shot the image of ballots under precinct workers' feet. They were busily taking the rectangular computer ballots out of their security envelopes, then stacking them in piles of 100 with the beveled edge to the upper left.
"Madame, in the green pants," Ken said. "There is a ballot under your foot."
She reached down and picked it up.
MacKenzie noticed another ballot on the floor a few women down. He whispered to Ken.
"Lady in the red pants, there's a ballot under your foot," Ken said.
She apologized and picked it up.
"Zoom in on the pencil in that lady's hand," Jim told Ken.
There were ten workers in the schoolroom and each had been issued a black pencil by the precinct captain.
Ken taped eight of the workers as they put the pencils in their pockets and two who held them, like a cigarette between their fingers.
MacKenzie whispered to Jim:
"Those pencils... don't say anything, but if we weren't here filming, they'd be having a hole-punching party right now. Those instruments are not supposed to be in their hands."
The pencils were the first illegality caught on tape. The camera had recorded some pretty rough handling of the cards, but not a single piece of "chad" those little pieces of paper that get punched out of the holes was anywhere on the table. Yet, according to our informant, members of the League were in the Data Processing Center at that very moment for the expressed purpose of cleaning "tons of chad" off the backs of vote cards.
The piles of cards were then placed in metal "security" boxes which were locked with a numbered plastic and wire seal, like the ones on an electric meter. At that point, the security boxes were thrown in the back seat of the precinct captain's car and driven, with MacKenzie and ourselves following, to the central collection point at Miami Beach High School.
We all arrived at the high school at 7:35 p.m. and MacKenzie asked for a time check on camera.
We followed the box and its attendants into the gymnasium, as about twenty other precinct captains were coming in with their boxes.
The camera recorded a heavyweight guy with giant gold rings on his fingers put a white bag under the table between his legs. It was a Burger King hamburger sack. After a few minutes he took a handful of something out of the bag. The camera zoomed in as he placed it on the table. The something turned out to be about 20 red plastic numbered seals like the ones on the metal security boxes.
A woman in her sixties examined a security box brought in by a precinct captain.
"Your seal is broken," she said.
"Yes, I know," the precinct captain replied.
Ken focused on the male clerk who had brought the seals in the paper sack.
"What are the extra seals for?" Ken asked.
"Oh, they're just in case any come in broken or something." He shuffled them lightly about with his fingers.
Ken panned to the woman.
"May I ask how that seal could possibly have become broken on the short ride to the high school?"
A long pause for thought.
"Well, it's possible," she answered.
"Can you tell us what purpose that seal serves if it can come in from the precinct broken?"
She stopped, looked quizzically at the camera, and said:
"Well, if it happens, we just put another one on."
"And then you record the new seal number as if it never happened?"
There was the second crime caught on tape.
With the registration procedure completed, two uniformed Metro cops put the boxes in the back seat of their squad car. They took off like a bat out of hell, ran lights, and we couldn't follow.
"If we hadn't been there," MacKenzie said, gunning the engine of his Buick, "she would have put new seals on those security boxes that came in broken. But she couldn't commit a third-degree felony in front of the camera, so she let the box slide through with a broken seal."
We drove up to the front of the Data Processing Center at about 8:45 p.m. The police cars were unloading the security boxes full of ballots onto four-wheeled dollies.
We got out of the car and MacKenzie went to park. Ken turned the videocam on the police "Who you with?" one of the cops asked. "The boss sent me," Ken said casually We followed one of the four-wheeled dollies behind the workers who were pushing them into the front door. There was a security desk and video camera located in the lobby between us and the elevators. A woman behind the desk was issuing I.D. badges, while a uniformed guard stood next to a sign that read: "You must have I.D. to enter this building."
"A New England town meeting, it isn't," Jim remarked.
"Where are you guys from?" the guard asked. "The Herald," Ken deadpanned with his finger still on the video button.
"Yeah, we're going up to see Bob Lowe," Jim added, seeing Lowe's name on the security list. The woman asked our names and we told her. Then the guard leaned over to a security helper and said out of the side of his mouth:
The helper started to dial.
Jim turned around and saw a blue suit, vest and dark sunglasses coming through the door. He turned to the woman with the badges and said, "He's from the FBI."
She immediately issued the three of us building passes reserved for the Herald. We attached ourselves to another dolly full of boxes and headed for the elevators.
The videocam caught the sound of a telephone ringing behind us, and a loudspeaker boomed:
"Security chief to the lobby! Security chief to the lobby!"
But the elevator doors closed and we were in.
We got off on the third floor and followed the dolly into a well lighted room about the size of three tennis courts. A lot of people were working at tables.
Young guys in T-shirts lifted the security boxes off the dollies and placed them on tables in front of women who would break the seals by twisting them or cutting them with heavy shears. They would then open the boxes and take out the stacks of ballots and place them in cardboard trays without tops.
Ken asked of one of the women:
"Where is the League of Women Voters?"
"Through there," she pointed.
We entered a big, carpeted room. There were reels of computer tape in racks on our left. On our right were about twenty men and women dressed for business. They were recognizable as the county bigwigs: judges, members of the election division, the Mayor of Miami and others. In front of us was a row of seven machines about three and one-half feet high.
These were called BMXs, or ballot multiplexers.
The camera saw six empty machines. They were unlighted and appeared turned off. At the seventh machine was a heavyset young guy in a white shirt. His machine made a clacking noise.
As we approached him, the camera recorded about 500 punchcards stacked in a hopper on the right top of the machine. A thick, black Magic Marker line was drawn across the top edges of the white cards. We were later to learn that only already counted punchcards were marked with a black line.
We watched as the cards were sucked from that hopper past a photoelectric cell that shined a light through the punched-out holes and recorded the position of me holes on a tape.
The camera rolled as the man took a card from the already counted side on the left and, in a sweeping arc, transferred it back to the uncounted side on the right. The machine was still clacking away.
Then he looked up and saw the camera.
Ken asked: "What are you doing?"
He didn't answer. Instead he glanced over his shoulder with a "Do I Tell Them Anything?" look on his face. Ken swung the camera around and focused on a man with a goatee and eyeglasses.
"Who are you?" he asked, like the Caterpillar asked Alice.
"It's not important who we are. Who are you?"
Jim looked at his badge "He's Joe Malone."
"You're Joe Malone the computer chief who programmed this election?" Ken asked.
"No, I'm not."
"You mean you're denying who you are?"
We knew Joe Malone from our research but had never met him.
The Herald called Joe Malone the "God of Elections" because without him an election could not be programmed for counting.
"You'll have to leave the room immediately; you're not allowed to be in here." Malone said.
Another voice piped up: "You've got to get out of here."
Ken turned the camera right into the face of David Leahy.
With that, a burly, blond Metro police office grabbed Ken's arm. Ken whipped the camera around, got a picture of the policeman's head, badge and uniform, and asked:
"Are we under arrest?"
"Not if you leave peaceably right now."
The policeman escorted us into a large room adjacent to the counting room. As we walked through the door, the first person we saw was Bob Lowe, with pen and paper in hand, grinning.
"Oh, there's Bob Lowe" Ken tried to provoke a reaction. "Bob, did you get into the secret basement where they take the reel of tape to have it counted?"
Lowe didn't bite but kept grinning.
The policeman pointed to a glass window in the wall.
"You can look in through this window here."
The BMX room from which we had just been evicted could be seen in total through the window, but everything going on was much too far away and the view was blocked by people. That window was as close as the public was permitted to the counting process.
Ken took a quick shot through the window.
"Nah," he said, "this is no good."
And he walked back to the door.
Three uniformed policeman were blocking the doorway.
At this point Ken got even more provocative as he kept shooting.
"What have we got? Malaria? If the, police apparatus can be in there, why can't we? Have you been ordered by your bosses to keep us out? Do you take orders from them?"
"Yeah, and I give orders, too," drawled one of the cops.
"What happens if I try to come back in?"
"You'll be arrested for trespass after warning. Read the statute and the process."
Ken turned and panned the room. There was a purple velvet rope which kept the public from the rest of the room. And on the other side of the rope was a large area we hadn't even noticed. In it were about 70 men and women, casually dressed, seated at long tables.
The camera focused on a woman with a box of ballots in front of her.
"Are you from the League of Women Voters?"
We saw people riffling through stacks of beige vote cards. These were not the same as the white cards we had just witnessed being run through the BMX machine.
Jim's attention was drawn to a woman sitting directly in front of him. She had a black pencil in her right hand and was busy poking a new hole in a card. Then she reached around the back side of the card and pulled away the piece of "chad" that dangled by a thread.
Ken asked: "Why are you poking a hole in that card?"
"Because it didn't go all the way through."
Jim, acting as Ken's peripheral vision, told him to pan the room.
"Get the chad all over the tables and on people's clothes."
Ken began to videotape people holding the punchcard ballots up to the light and, using those black pencils, punching holes in them."
"Get 'em outta here.!!" The security guard, who had been too late to catch us in the lobby, stuck his hand in front of the camera.
Ken said: "Hey pal, get your hand off my lens."
With that, four cops grabbed us, two on each, and force-walked us out the door and back to the elevator.
"I'm not under arrest, am I?" Ken still had the camera rolling.
Instead of the elevator, the police marched us down three flights of steps, and all the way back to Galloway Road into the dark night.
"If you come back," one of them said, "you'll be arrested."
As the cops walked away, Bob Lowe stuck his head into the frame. He had followed the action out to the street.
"You've got to get into the basement to see what happens to the tape after it comes out of the BMX machines. We didn't get that far. Will you do it?" Ken asked.
"Yes," Lowe promised.
That night back at the Herald, Lowe wrote that there was "a blizzard of chad on the floor beneath the feet of the volunteers," indicating the massive extent of hole punching after we left. Lowe claimed that he named the League of Women Voters as the volunteers and that he wrote about us being dragged out. But the city desk, on Jim Savage's order, stopped it.
MacKenzie's brown Buick loomed out of the darkness. We jumped in. We had gotten proof of election rigging on tape. We crowed.
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