In the wake of absentee-ballot fraud investigations that roiled last month’s local elections, Miami-Dade commissioners will take up three measures Thursday intended to tighten the rules for voting by mail.
Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, whose former aide has been tangled up in the fraud probe, is sponsoring a resolution directing the county administration to provide pre-paid postage envelopes for absentee voters to return their ballots.
Pre-paid postage has long been suggested as a fix to prevent campaigns and other outsiders from handling absentee ballots. Based on voter turnout in the last presidential election, the postage would cost no more than $170,000, according to the county. The practice would begin with absentee ballots mailed within the United States from Miami-Dade voters for the upcoming, Nov. 6 general election.
“At that point, you’ve now eliminated an excuse for somebody to knock on your door and offer you a stamp and offer to take [your ballot] to a mailbox,” said Bovo, whose measure is co-sponsored by Commissioner Audrey Edmonson.
City councils in Miami Lakes and Hialeah, which are in Bovo’s district, have recently passed similar measures requesting the county provide pre-paid postage return envelopes for absentee ballots.
The two other county proposals are mostly symbolic, urging state lawmakers to take action regarding absentee ballots when they convene for next year’s legislative session.
One of those resolutions, from Commission Chairman Joe Martinez and also backed by Bovo, asks lawmakers to keep secret the names and contact information of voters who request absentee ballots. That data is currently made available in the lead-up to elections to candidates and political committees — but not to reporters or other members of the public — to target their advertising to those voters.
Reporters and the public can obtain the information after the election.
The other resolution, put forth by Commissioner Rebeca Sosa and supported by Martinez and Commissioners Jose “Pepe” Diaz and Barbara Jordan, requests that lawmakers reinstate a previous requirement that voters give a reason, such as travel or an illness, for voting absentee.
That requirement was part of a slew of reforms legislators approved after the fraud-riddled 1997 mayoral election in the city of Miami. It was later eliminated, allowing voters to cast absentee ballots for any reason.
“I will continue to work on legislation that will preserve a citizen’s right to vote and restore integrity to the absentee ballot process,” Sosa said in a press statement last week.
Last year, Sosa sponsored the measure that put teeth into a previously penalty-free county ordinance that prohibited a person from possessing multiple absentee ballots. The ordinance allows people to turn in two absentee ballots in addition to their own: one belonging to an immediate family member and another belonging to a voter who has signed a sworn statement designating that person as responsible for the ballot.
The ordinance, which went into effect July 1, carries a relatively minor penalty of a $1,000 fine or 60 days in jail. Law enforcement has cited the legislation as the legal tool that has allowed them to build a case against two Hialeah ballot brokers known as boleteros, Deisy Cabrera and Sergio Robaina, who have been charged with more serious voter fraud.
Cabrera and Robaina have separately been linked to 195 absentee ballots submitted for the Aug. 14 election that police say the two boleteros collected in Hialeah and neighboring cities. According to police, Cabrera forged the signature of a terminally ill voter, and Robaina filled out two absentee ballots against voters’ intentions.
Police say Robaina, known as “ el Tío” because he is the uncle of former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, delivered dozens of ballots to Commissioner Bovo’s former aide, Anamary Pedrosa, at Bovo’s Hialeah district office.
Bovo has not been implicated in the investigation; Pedrosa told authorities neither Bovo nor anyone else in his office had knowledge that she was holding on to 164 ballots — from Robaina and other ballot brokers — that she would later drop off at the post office.
Thursday’s meeting will be followed by the first of two public hearings on the county’s 2012-13 budget. It begins at 5 p.m. at the county commission chambers at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in downtown Miami.