At Little Haitis St. Mary Towers, ballot brokers jockey every election season to see who can get in the doors and collect the most absentee ballots, the elderly residents say.
Brokers tout their skills on Creole-language radio, pitch their services to candidates running for office in cities that boast a sizeable Haitian electorate and even brag about their vote-getting prowess on business cards emblazoned with slogans like Queen of the absentee ballots.
So-called boleteros have long been a part of the political firmament in largely Hispanic enclaves in Miami-Dade.
But they are part of a burgeoning cottage industry in the Haitian community a testament to the increasing power of the Haitian-American vote, as well as a cause for concern for those who worry about potential abuses, especially in the wake of the recent arrests of two ballot brokers in Hialeah.
In areas where people have less sophistication about the process, the idea of someone helping is more appealing, said Joseph Centorino, director of Miami-Dades Ethics Commission. This kind of thing tends to happen where there are vulnerable people, people who can be taken advantage of by a political campaign.
The Miami-Dade County State Attorneys Office has set up a task force to investigate all allegations of possible vote fraud.
At least one senior citizen at St. Mary Towers, a beige corner apartment complex for the elderly, says he is unsure whom he voted for in last months election after he let brokers fill out his absentee ballot.
Joseph Jean-Baptiste said three men filled out and mailed his absentee ballot. The men who knocked on his apartment door in Little Haiti spoke Creole. They said they were Democrats and seemed friendly. But Jean-Baptiste cant say whom he voted for with certainty because he didnt review the ballot for the Aug. 14 primary except to sign it.
The government needs to look into this because I had faith in these people and now I dont know. I keep thinking about it. Did they steal my vote? said Jean-Baptiste, 84.
Several St. Mary Towers residents told a reporter there were brokers collecting ballots in August.
A Miami-Dade county ordinance prohibits a person from possessing multiple absentee ballots. The ordinance allows people to turn in two absentee ballots in addition to their own.
Alix Desulme, a Haitian-American politician who ran against state Rep. Daphne Campbell in District 108, said he has never been approached by an absentee ballot broker. Desulme lost to Campbell in the Aug. 14 primary.
Ive heard there were people who offer to render absentee services in the Haitian community, but I always wanted to run my campaign with integrity and honesty, Desulme said.
One woman, Noucelie Josna, who calls herself the The queen of absenstee ballots on her business card, did work for Desulme when he ran for North Miami city clerk. Desulme said Josna did not collect ballots on his behalf and added he was unaware of her self-proclaimed title when he hired the queen.
She did voter outreach and managed the flier distributions, that was it, nothing out of the ordinary, he said.
Last month, Hialeah ballot brokers Deisy Cabrera and Sergio Robaina were charged with voter fraud and with violating the county ordinance. The scandal cast the ballot-broker issue into high relief and had politicians scrambling to distance themselves from boleteros, which has become something of political pejorative this election season.