Deisy Cabrera has been a small-time fixture at the murky edges of Hialeah politics for many years, one of many freelance ballot-brokers who collect absentee votes on behalf of candidates for office, usually for a fee.
But the obscure Cabrera found herself suddenly enveloped in unwanted public notoriety this week when anti-corruption Miami-Dade County cops targeted her for alleged ballot fraud, lifting the lid on what many say is a long-tolerated practice among local political operatives.
Stout and in poor health, apparently prone to dizzy spells that prevent her from driving, the 56-year-old Cabrera was nonetheless assiduous in getting around Hialeah to drum up business and collect absentee ballots from voters in apparent violation of county law.
Deisy Penton de Cabrera — she used the Anglicized “Daisy” on the business cards she handed out to voters and potential clients and kept her married name though divorced from Braulio Cabrera for 25 years — is a familiar face to operatives in Hialeah’s cut-throat political scene. The mother of two often worked in campaign offices, sometimes for pay, sometimes as a volunteer, veterans of the scene say.
“People liked her, they knew her,” said Rafael “Ralph” Perez, a onetime candidate for a state legislative seat from Hialeah who employed Cabrera’s daughter, Mercedes, in his 2011 campaign. “Everyone would know who the mayor was, but they would ask her for help for the rest of the ballot. ‘Who should I vote for for judge, or this race? How should I vote on this amendment?’ People trusted her.”
“Deisy was like a lot of people,” he added. “She was known in the neighborhood. She didn’t have a lot of money. When it was election time, she volunteered or canvassed maybe for a little gas money.”
Cabrera also cultivated numerous voters from whom she collected — and whom she sometimes helped fill out — absentee ballots.
Several voters whose ballots Cabrera had in her possession when she was detained say the boletera reliably turned up election after election to make sure they had requested absentee ballots, which she would offer to pick up to take to the post office. Two illiterate voters say Cabrera also suggested whom they should vote for after they told her they were unfamiliar with the candidates.
Some candidates and campaign officials said Cabrera had also recently approached them with an offer to collect ballots on their behalf.
Several voters said Cabrera even buttonholed them at the Sedano’s supermarket on Hialeah’s West 12th Avenue to make sure they had requested absentee ballots for the Aug. 14 primaries from the county elections department.
“She said, ‘I’ll come and get it’,” said Ana M. Perez , who ran into Cabrera at the Sedano’s about a month ago. Perez said the two are acquaintances from the province of Sancti Spiritus in central Cuba, but she didn’t know how Cabrera knew she had requested an absentee ballot.
Perez said ballot brokers frequently work the Sedano’s, asking shoppers if they are U.S. citizens and whether they have received a ballot in the mail. Perez said she gave Cabrera her home address, and about two days later Cabrera came by and picked up the ballot. Perez insisted she filled out the ballot herself.