The Fifteenth Amendment says the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race, color or previous servitude. The Twentieth Amendment says that same right shall not abridged on account of sex.

But there's no amendment to protect the sick and lame from having their votes denied because they are physically unable to get to a polling booth.With voter fraud via absentee ballot obviously rampant, a district appellate court in south Florida last Wednesday voided all 5,000 absentee ballots cast in the infamous Miami mayor's election Nov. 4 and declared the leader in the ballot box voting to be the duly elected mayor of Miami.

There was substantial evidence to support the finding of voter fraud through absentee ballots. And there have been arrests. But among the 5,000 annulled ballots were many from people legitimately unable to get to the polls.

All told, 11 percent of the vote was cast through absentee ballots, an extraordinary high amount - and one that raised suspicion enough to bring about court cases and, I suppose, will continue to do so until something is done to constrain fraud in absentee balloting.

The three-member panel, in tossing all the absentee ballots, reaffirmed earlier court cases. In its decision the court wrote: "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."

Translation: You've got no constitutional right to vote anywhere else but at the polling place. Absentee voting is a courtesy that can be rescinded.

This, indeed, is a severe hardship to the legitimately handicapped - created by an abusive element of our society that has found ways to stuff the ballot box with fraudulent votes.

The Florida court, in nullifying the absentee ballots and declaring the leader at the polling places to be the winner of the election, said that to do otherwise, and call for a new election, was to disenfranchise the 40,000-plus persons who did go to the polls.

Miami hardly is alone as a community where absentee ballots are fraudulently filed. It's been a historic abuse throughout the nation. The recent Miami case, as flagrant as it was, brought it out into the open more than ever before.

Because of a need to get more people - especially minorities - to vote, this nation has made it much easier for people to register and to cast a ballot, including an absentee ballot.

In certain minority-dominated areas, we even produce ballots in another language to make it easier for the naturalized voter to comprehend. I wouldn't be surprised if ways were being considered to allow people to vote by home computer.

But the Miami decision has a chilling effect on such gestures. It throws open to scrutiny the abuse of absentee ballots and, while not demanding so in the written decision, clearly leaves a message that this "privilege" needs to have fail-safes, needs to make more difficult, if not impossible, the misuse of the absentee voter privilege.

There are thousands of victims in this case, people who already have been victimized by health and age. Their privilege was taken away in the November Miami election. While it doesn't seem constitutional, unless determined otherwise by higher courts, it is.

Meanwhile, and until we find a better way to handle elections, the precinct bosses, the vote buyers and vote sellers will shrug their shoulders, write off the November 4 Miami election as just one bad day among many successful days, and continue to corrupt what has been considered to be the best democratic system in the world.