The investigation of the 2003 election fizzled as many vote-fraud cases do: Police could not find hard evidence that ballots were altered or voters were misled by ballot-brokers. A handwriting expert hired by Narvaez — the same expert who testified in the 1993 election contest — found little evidence of forgery.
Detectives did find evidence that campaign workers falsely claimed they had witnessed some ballots; however, in the middle of the investigation, the Legislature removed the witness requirement from the law.
“Even though it appears that a prima facie case existed that certain persons had falsely attested to absentee ballots in the November 2003 election, it would be difficult to sustain a prosecution based on that repealed statute,” special prosecutor John Countryman wrote in his final report on the case.
The new rules
The latest ballot-fraud investigation has unfolded differently — thanks to a new Miami-Dade ordinance that toughens up the elections law.
The new ordinance makes it a misdemeanor for any person to possess more than two absentee ballots belonging to other voters. A violation can result in a jail sentence of up to 60 days.
The new law makes ballot collection itself a crime, and gives investigators a better chance to find evidence of tampering or fraud if the ballots are seized before they get to the elections department.
That’s how police say they nabbed Cabrera, whom police discovered with 12 ballots on July 25. One of those ballots belonged to 81-year-old Zulema Gomez, a woman police observed just moments after Cabrera took her ballot; a detective described Gomez as “unresponsive” and unable to cast a ballot, court records show.
“The only reason we have anything going on right now is because of that ordinance,” said Centorino, who prosecuted several people in an infamous vote-fraud scandal in Miami’s 1997 municipal elections. “It really does put the ballot-brokers out of business.”
Bovo said he plans to introduce a new change to voting methods: He wants the county’s absentee ballot envelopes to include postage paid by the county, so voters won’t need help finding stamps.
Miami Herald staff writers Patricia Mazzei, David Ovalle and Melissa Sanchez contributed to this report.