In light of Hialeah’s growing absentee ballot fraud scandal, politicians across Miami-Dade County are proposing ways to make it tougher for ballot brokers, or boleteros, to stay in business.
In Miami Lakes, town council members on Monday agreed to pay for the postage on absentee ballots sent to Miami Lakes residents in all elections. “If we pay for the stamps on the envelopes and make it clear to the voters they have no need to hand their ballot over to a boletero, maybe this won’t solve the whole problem but at least it’s a step in the right direction,” said Mayor Michael Pizzi, who proposed the plan. He said he would contact the county to try to work out the details.
Pizzi also wants to lobby the Legislature to prohibit the use of campaign funds to hire workers to collect absentee ballots from voters’ homes.
The proposals from Pizzi and other leaders come after two people in Hialeah were arrested on allegations of ballot fraud in separate Miami-Dade police investigations. Deisy Cabrera, 57, and Sergio Robaina, 74, have been charged with felony counts of tampering with ballots in separate cases under investigation by Miami-Dade police. Dozens of voters describe the two as long-times ballot-brokers who routinely dropped by their homes during election cycles to help fill out ballots and take them to the post office.
“It hurts me that this ballot scandal has occurred in our city,” said Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández. “This affects the good image we’ve been building over the past six years.”
Hernández said he’ll present his own resolution on Tuesday to ask county commissioners to consider no longer sending sample ballots to voters and use those savings to pay the postage costs for voters who get absentee ballots.
“Instead of spending thousands of dollars on sample ballots, the Elections Department should invest that money in making the envelopes have pre-paid postage,” he said. “That would keep people from trying to get close to voters with the excuse of giving them free stamps.”
As part of his proposal, Hernandez wants to encourage state lawmakers to bring back a witness signature requirement on absentee ballots. He also wants the state to make it a crime for individuals to possess or collect more than two ballots; currently, this is only prohibited under a Miami-Dade County ordinance that went into effect last month.
“If something positive can come out of all this it’s that we’re going to be pioneers and create the necessary changes so that this kind of scandal never again takes place in our city, county or state,” he said.
Originally, absentee ballots were available only to those voters who were unable to make it to the polls on Election Day. But changes to state law in the late 1990s made it easier for anybody to request an absentee ballot. Then in 2004 the witness requirement on ballots was eliminated.
The changes not only made it easier for citizens to vote at home but transformed the role absentee ballots play in elections. During the Aug. 14 elections, for example, absentee ballots accounted for more than one in three ballots cast in the county mayoral race.
County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, who pushed for the new county ordinance, said that absentee ballots should be a privilege and not a right for all voters.
“What we’re hearing from citizens is that only those who can’t go out and vote should receive absentee ballots,” she said. “We have to work toward finding an immediate reform at the state level.”