They’re the scourge of our elections. You know it. Certainly, everyone in Miami-Dade politics knows that boleteros flout the law, defile ballots and corrupt elections, and that they do it for pay. For whatever piddling sums they can extract from the candidates or their operatives.
They only exist because our peculiar political cultural allows them to. Candidates either pay illegal ballot brokers and exploit their sleazy services or they don’t. But even those candidates in Miami-Dade County who reject overtures from ballot outlaws haven’t done much to stanch the corruption.
“We haven’t heard from them. They haven’t called us. Not one call.” It was the voice of someone close to the investigation of the county’s latest spate of absentee ballot violations. It was a voice roiling with frustration.
Last week, El Nuevo Herald reporters Melissa Sanchez and Enrique Flor interviewed judicial candidates who said that before the Aug. 14 election, they had been approached by boleteros offering to deliver the votes they needed to win, via absentee ballots. María Elena Verde, who won her circuit judge election, told El Nuevo Herald that a broker had confided to her, “This morning I was sitting in that kitchen filling out absentee ballots. I can put your name on the ballots.”
Lourdes Cambó, who lost her county judge race, said a broker offered to collect votes for $1,500, lowering the price to $1,300 when she declined, then to $1,000 after another rejection. “It’s an insult to the democratic system,” Cambó said. “Judges have to be almost saints, and they can’t be hiring boleteros.”
Both candidates indicated that they were outraged by this illegal stuff. But neither of them picked up the phone. Neither called the police or the state attorney’s office or the FDLE or the FBI.
“These are judicial candidates, of all people,” said that seething law-enforcement source on the phone. “And I’ve got to read about this in the newspaper? After the election, when it’s too late to make a case? We could have had an undercover officer work this. We could have protected the candidates identities. But now …
“What the hell were they thinking? And they were running to be judges? … We could be in front of them, trying to compel a witness to testify in a criminal case, yet when they saw a crime …”
They didn’t do what judges expect of other citizens.
Of course, it’s a little unfair to harp on the candidates who agreed to talk to El Nuevo Herald. Boleteros approached these two because these bottom feeders in the campaign industry assume that most candidates, or at least their surrogates, will write the check. (If for no other reason than to keep the boleteros from going to work for their opponent.) Reporting by the Herald and El Nuevo Herald indicate that candidates and their campaign consultants have been hiring the boleteros for years.
Some, like Cambó and Verde, reject the brokers yet remain passive in the face of corruption. Surely, of all people, lawyers, sworn officers of the court, should know better. Yet lawyers running for all sorts of local offices have either hired absentee ballot brokers or failed to report their unseemly overtures to law enforcement. “It’s no different than if someone approached them with a truckload of stolen computers,” said my source, the fellow still waiting for that first phone call from an outraged candidate.