Hialeah, Miami Lakes and now Miami-Dade County have all moved to stamp out absentee ballot fraud with, well, a stamp.
Offering taxpayer-funded postage for absentee ballots certainly removes the excuse for using so-called boleteros, ballot brokers, now paid by various candidates, to be snooping around nursing homes and county-run comedores to “help” the elderly or infirm fill out their ballots and, often, to take the ballots with them to the post office.
The problem isn’t so much carrying a ballot to the mailbox. The problem is the practice of boleteros filling out ballots for others when voting is a sacred right of citizenship that’s based on personal responsibility — not a group project. This isn’t about a family member helping another go over the ballot. It’s about having paid ballot brokers manipulate the most important system in a democracy: elections.
Miami-Dade commissioners on Tuesday gave the nod to the postage payment, which was first recommended by a Miami-Dade Grand Jury empanelled by State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle 15 years ago after an absentee ballot scandal involving the city of Miami.
The proposal, which will cost about $170,000 to reach voters who live in unincorporated parts of the county, was recommended by Commissioner Esteban Bovo, whose former aide at his Hialeah office, Anamary Pedrosa, apparently was involved with several boleteros in the August elections. She admitted to prosecutors that certain brokers were dropping off ballots at the commissioner’s office to mail. The commissioner, who was elected as a reformer last year, has maintained he had no knowledge of any of this.
In Miami-Dade it’s already illegal for anyone to carry more than two ballots to the post office, thanks to a law proposed by Commissioner Rebeca Sosa last year. Now, even with prepaid stamps for ballots, Miami-Dade’s cities still have to put their money where their integrity should be and fund their portion for absentee voters within city limits. But as Commissioner Barbara Jordan pointed out at Tuesday’s meeting, paying the postage is but “a Band-Aid.”
The greater issue is maintaining the integrity of “one person, one vote.” Absentee ballots began as a way to help voters who were going to be out of town on Election Day or were too old or ill to be standing in long lines to vote. They should not be disenfranchised.
But the reality is absentee ballots today are more a convenience than a rare exception. About one-third of voters now use absentee ballots, and the GOP-led Legislature has moved over the past 10 years to make it easier to vote absentee because Republican-leaning voters are more likely to use them. Tallahassee went so far as to remove the requirement of having a second person sign the outside envelope of an absentee ballot to vouch that the voter alone filled it out. Wrong call.
The biggest problem is a lack of transparency guiding absentee ballots. The law allows any candidate or political committee to get the names and addresses of all voters who seek an absentee ballot. But not the media, whose mission is to keep government and politicians accountable to the public. Some legislators claim secrecy is necessary to protect the “privacy” of absentee-ballot voters leaving town who fear a public record would be an open invitation to burglars. That’s an old canard.
Now that absentee ballots have become so commonplace, the excuse for secrecy is just that, an excuse.