When two well-known absentee-ballot brokers in Hialeah were arrested four months ago on charges of electoral fraud, several of their accomplices stayed away from politics, fearing they would be discovered during the campaigns leading up to the November elections.
However, given authorities’ apparent lack of interest in investigating the cases, some of the Miami-Dade ballot brokers, known as boleteros, have already begun to coordinate the collection of absentee ballots for next year.
There will be elections in 2013 in 15 of Miami-Dade’s 35 municipalities, among them the largest cities in the county — Miami, Hialeah and Miami Beach.
“When I saw on television that they had arrested that woman in Hialeah, I told my husband, ‘I’m glad it wasn’t me,’ ” said an experienced boletera who has worked for several municipal campaigns during the past decade.
“But I think it’s unfair that the politicians who hire us can simply wash their hands and not one of them has been arrested,” added the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.
So far there has not been a deep investigation into the politicians who benefited from the work of boleteros Deisy Cabrera and Sergio Robaina, who were arrested in August. Authorities made the arrests under a county ordinance that, beginning last July, penalized those who collect more than two ballots belonging to other people.
The ordinance was intended to reduce electoral fraud, but its future is uncertain. Attorney Thomas Cobitz, who represents Robaina, has questioned its constitutionality in court, alleging that it violates Robaina’s freedom of political expression and the rights of voters who seek assistance from others.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch will hear arguments from Cobitz and prosecutor Tim VanderGiesen on Jan. 15.
“We expect the ordinance’s constitutionality to be reaffirmed,” said County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, who sponsored the measure last year. “Our duty as commissioners is to make sure that we stop the abuse, guarantee the rights of every voter and make sure that everyone’s vote counts.”
Regardless of what happens in court, the cases of Cabrera and Robaina have revealed how the business of boleteros can lead to the abuse of elderly voters, some of them illiterate or mentally disabled. El Nuevo Herald interviewed about 10 voters whose absentee ballots ended up in the hands of Cabrera and Robaina, and who said they did not know whom they had voted for. Some of them suffer from Alzheimer’s.
“Democracy is the big loser in all of this because there is no justice,” said Joe Carollo, who in 1997 was named mayor of Miami by a court after an electoral fraud scandal. “There are voters now who are frustrated and who do not even want to vote, believing that their vote doesn’t count and that nothing will change.”
Cabrera, 57, was arrested on Aug. 2, accused of collecting 31 absentee ballots belonging to other people and for allegedly forging the signature of a dying, elderly woman at a hospice. Cabrera, who says she is not guilty, refused to comment for this report through her attorney, Eric Castillo.
Cabrera’s arrest prompted a political scandal that affected two of the most important election campaigns in Miami-Dade a few weeks before the Aug. 14 primaries. Authorities noted Cabrera’s presence in the Hialeah office for the reelection of county Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has said she did not work for his campaign.