Before launching her campaign for Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge, María Elena Verde got a clear recommendation from her political adviser: Keep boleteros absentee-ballot brokers at a distance.
She gave me a list of names and told me not to talk to any of those people, said Verde, who won her Aug. 14 race against Richard Coppel.
Despite the warning, Verde found herself appalled by the number of boleteros who approached her. During a visit to a Miami community center for the elderly, for instance, a woman asked her whether she had hired someone to collect absentee ballots on her behalf.
I dont know what you mean by that, Verde said she responded.
Without mentioning a fee, the woman pointed to community centers kitchen and said: This morning I was sitting in that kitchen filling out absentee ballots. I can put your name on the ballots.
Several judicial candidates who ran in the Aug. 14 election recalled in dismay and disgust how boleteros took advantage of campaign events to offer their services. The ballot brokers behaved like vendors at a flea market, some candidates said, sometimes seemingly haggling among themselves on a deal.
Appalled by the assault, some candidates said they pretended not to know what was going on and even invented distractions, like cutting a cake, to get away from them.
Judicial campaign consultant Ruby Feria said candidates for judgeships can be more attractive targets for boleteros than the candidates for county or city commissions. Judicial races often turn out fewer voters than other countywide races. And candidates cant campaign on a political platform, but still need to find ways to reach voters countywide if they hope to win.
They are more vulnerable because they are not politicians and are less familiar with campaigning, Feria said.
In some cases, candidates said the boleteros were explicit when offering ballots in exchange for money. In other cases, they took care to avoid using the words absentee ballots.
But what they offered was obvious, said Lourdes Cambó, who lost her race against County Judge Don Cohn. During a June picnic at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah, Cambó said that various people approached to say they could guarantee votes for her.
One woman asked me for $1,500, and I was in shock, said Cambó, who did not want to identify the boletera. I told her that I had no money, and then she went down to $1,300. Later, when I didnt respond, she said $1,000 because it was Saturday.
Cambó, like Verde, said she was outraged, and rejected the offers.
Its an insult to the democratic system, Cambó said. Judges have to be almost saints, and they cant be hiring boleteros.
In August, authorities revealed that Anamary Pedrosa, a former employee of Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo, had collected some 164 absentee ballots in the commissioners Hialeah office. Pedrosa told authorities that several people, including boleteros, handed her dozens of ballots because they trusted that she could take them to a post office box.
El Nuevo Herald learned last week that Pedrosa and her mother, Ana Valdez, worked on several political campaigns for last months election. Public records show how Pedrosa organized a campaign event for state Rep. Manny Díaz Jr. during work hours, while her mother was paid to work on the campaign of state Rep. José Oliva.