Olga Roqueta, 77, and her husband say they filled out their absentee ballots without help and put them in their mailbox weeks before the Aug. 14 election.
Alberto Rodríguez, 42, said Anamary Pedrosa, a former employee in Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo’s Hialeah office, passed by his house to pick up his ballot.
Doris Martínez, 83, said she and her husband gave their sealed ballots to their old friend Sergio Robaina.
Roqueta, Rodríguez and Martínez are among the 164 voters whose ballots are the focus of an ongoing voter-fraud investigation that has led to the arrest of Robaina and inquiries about an additional half-dozen possible ballot-brokers, or boleteros.
The stories of these voters — mostly elderly Hispanics who vote Republican — offer a glimpse into the boletero operations that depend on networks of friends and family, and are an entrenched part of Hialeah politics. In many cases, their stories conflict with the facts offered by authorities.
Pedrosa, who does not face charges, told authorities that Robaina and others gave her the ballots in Bovo’s office. She then dropped them into a blue mailbox outside the post office at 2200 NW 72nd Ave., where a postal employee discovered them July 26.
More than 60 voters whose ballots were part of this batch told reporters they could not explain how they got there.
“I voted, signed and put them in my mailbox,” said Roqueta, one of 14 voters who told a similar story.
Sources close to the investigation say the ballots all appeared to have been deposited together, which was why the postal agent who found them alerted police.
Close to three dozen voters told reporters they mailed their ballots themselves.
Among them: Juana Olano, 80, who remembered dropping hers in a mailbox outside a Sedano’s grocery store. And Felix Bermúdez, 79, who said he took his to the mailbox outside the neighborhood Navarro’s pharmacy.
Sixty other voters said they handed their ballots to a friend or acquaintance who saved them the trouble of going to the post office.
The man whose name came up most frequently is Robaina, who faces two felony charges of tampering with the ballots of a woman with dementia and her son. Robaina, 74, denies the allegations.
Pedrosa told authorities that during five visits, Robaina gave her about 40 ballots in Bovo’s office.
Of the 35 voters who told reporters they gave their ballots to Robaina, 14 live in the same public housing complex in Hialeah. An additional half-dozen live on the same city block.
Except for the voters whose allegations make up the criminal case against him, no one has accused Robaina of pressuring them to vote for certain candidates.
“He’s a conscientious and respectful person,” said Martínez, who has known Robaina for years. “He’s never done anything wrong.”
Robaina, known in Hialeah as “el Tío” because of his nephew, former Mayor Julio Robaina, has also worked as an Elections Department poll inspector during the past four years.
Other voters pointed to Claribel “Beba” Ferrer, 71, as the woman who came by to pick up their ballots. At least six ballots in the bundle of 164 are linked to her.
Ferrer told El Nuevo Herald she picked up the ballots. She said she tries to help her friends and relatives who don’t always understand how to fill out their own ballots. But she said she has never pressured anybody to vote for specific candidates or filled out ballots herself.