She warned us in 2004. And a grand jury she impaneled had warned us in 1998. Without tough laws to weed out abuses, absentee-ballot fraudsters would continue to game the system and corrupt our elections.
After the rigged 1997 mayoral election in Miami, where absentee ballots were cast by dead people and ballot runners were illegally filling out ballots for the infirm and elderly — and getting paid a pretty penny to do it — the Florida Legislature passed laws to crack down on voter fraud, following some of the recommendations of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and the grand jury. The new laws required a witness to sign absentee ballot forms to confirm that the person signing the ballot envelope was the actual voter. And they made it illegal to pay for ballot brokers — or so it seemed.
But the feds were not happy with the crackdown, fearing they would disenfranchise elderly or infirm voters who weren’t able to go to the polls, and few of the new rules were enforced in Florida. Then came the contested 2000 elections, and rules that capped the number of ballots one individual can witness or how many ballots a “ballot broker” can turn in to the post office or elections office, were dropped. Voters didn’t even have to give a reason why they would vote absentee — it was wide open.
And as more people began voting absentee, and more of them were elderly Republicans, the GOP-led Legislature and then-Secretary of State Glenda Hood pushed to get rid of the witness requirement by 2004. Turned out county supervisor of elections offices weren’t paying much attention to the witness signature anyway and only checking the voters’ signatures. And, of course, the Miami-Dade grand jury’s recommendation to add teeth to that requirement and get a license number or some other ID for the witness (too often shifty boleteros and boleteras paid by each ballot collected) went nowhere. (The grand jury in 1998 also recommended two witnesses per ballot, but politicians cried foul, saying it was criminalizing good people who had no reason to commit fraud.)
By 2004, the witness requirement was dumped. “From a prosecutor’s perspective, you need that check and balance,” Fernandez Rundle lamented in an April 13, 2004, article in The Miami Herald. “Often times that’s the only evidence — or it’s going to be the best evidence — of fraud.”
Exactly. It was the examination of those witness signatures in the 1997 Miami race that led to the arrest of 56 elections fraudsters, and the conviction of former Miami City Commissioner Humberto Hernandez.
Then came a little situation of sorts in Orlando in 2006, when Mayor Buddy Dyer and some of his campaign folks were accused of paying ballot brokers, or as we say in Miami, boleteros. See, Buddy is a Democrat, so people on the other side of the aisle aligned with the GOP started to once again question if this law was fair.
Buddy’s people weren’t committing fraud by choosing candidates for voters, they were just picking up sealed ballots to save voters the cost of a stamp. And sure enough, the floodgates were opened again. The Legislature “fine-tuned” the law to allow brokers to be paid to collect ballots. It would be illegal only if there is “intent to alter, change, modify or erase any vote.”