When state Rep. Luis Garcia went to be bed Tuesday night, he thought hed lost a close election for a Miami-Dade Commission seat to incumbent Bruno Barreiro.
When he woke up, his world had changed.
Barreiros razor-thin margin needed to secure a new four-year term evaporated after 1 a.m. Wednesday, when county election officials counted late-arriving absentee ballots that had been turned in on Tuesday.
Last night we went to bed thinking it was over, said Garcia, a former Miami Beach fire chief and city commissioner. We were frustrated because of how the election took place.
With Barreiro 11 votes short of the necessary majority 50 percent plus one votes Garcia could be looking at another opportunity to defeat the 14-year incumbent in the Nov. 6 runoff. Barreiro finished with 7,792 votes, 49.94 percent of the votes cast. Garcia received 5,158 votes, 33.06 percent.
But the candidates wont know for certain until a three-member canvassing board from the countys elections department examines any provisional ballots cast in the race, starting around 9 a.m. Friday.
Provisional ballots can be requested at the polls when a voter is denied the chance to cast a ballot because they couldnt produce photo identification. Election officials with handwriting expertise compare the signature on a provisional ballot with signatures the department has on file to see if they match, then pass the findings to the canvassing board for final say.
If Barreiro makes up the 11 votes needed, he retains his seat for another four years. If not, Barreiro and Garcia will face off again in November.
The election to represent the countys District 5, which runs from Miami Beach and over the MacArthur Causeway through Little Havana, is not likely to be buttoned up quickly, though.
Garcia said he contacted the state attorneys office before the election about potential absentee ballot fraud at seniors center Rebecca Towers in Miami Beach, and Barreiro said he might call for a recount if isnt declared the winner.
Were waiting for the canvassing board to get together, he said. Were looking into a possible recount, but I dont have the specifics on it.
Barreiro said under the law, he is entitled to an automatic recount if he comes within ½ percent of the majority vote.
But Christina White, the deputy supervisor of elections, disagreed, saying an automatic recount is only triggered if the vote totals for the two leading candidates in a race fall within ½ percent.
Garcia, meanwhile, said he visited Rebecca Towers several weeks ago and bumped into two women who told him they were collecting absentee ballots. He reported the encounter to the state attorneys office, whose investigator called him, and said a week later he was contacted by an investigator with the countys Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.
The state attorney has made two arrests related to absentee ballot fraud in Hialeah, and is investigating other possible cases throughout the county.
I think an investigation has got to take place, Garcia said.
Garcia, 66, is the lone candidate backed by billionaire activist Norman Braman who has a chance at a runoff.
Braman, the billionaire auto magnate who orchestrated last years recall of County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, bankrolled four challengers against entrenched county commission incumbents. Braman targeted the four because they voted to raise property taxes and use public funding for the Miami Marlins new ballpark in Little Havana.
But Braman struck out with every candidate but Garcia.
Former Dade Farm Bureau Director Alice Pena was soundly defeated by Commissioner Dennis Moss in District 9. Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson was crushed by 37-year county employee and District 1 Commissioner Barbara Jordan. And Belafonte Tacolcy Center Executive Director Alison Austin failed to make the District 3 runoff, in which Commissioner Audrey Edmonson will again face off with county public defender Keon Hardemon.
One other commission race went to a runoff: Former state Rep. Juan C. Zapata did not receive enough votes to win outright against Miami-Dade police officer Manny Machado. The two will square off for the District 11 seat, vacated by Joe Martinez when he ran for mayor.
Martinez was defeated by Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Tuesday.