From Ireland, England and India and other points overseas Miami-Dade County received more than 2,500 phantom computer requests for absentee ballots in last year’s elections. The vendor that monitors the county’s computerized voter registration system caught the fraud when it became clear that the requests “were being submitted at a rate that was not humanly possible if the data on the screen was being entered by a person,” according to a grand jury report.
Voters whose names were hijacked by the untraceable computers were contacted by the elections office, and sure enough, those voters had not gone online to request the absentee ballots. Even though investigators could get the IP address, which identifies the country where a computer is connected, the fraudsters used so-called “anonymizers” to hide the exact location.
So, add phantom computers to Miami-Dade’s election fiasco of fraudulent absentee ballots and marathon lines during early voting and Election Day.
The Dec. 19 grand jury report delivers one more warning about Florida’s broken elections system. Will the Legislature take it seriously this time?
A similar warning and recommendations by another county grand jury after the 1997 Miami elections got a big yawn from Tally. Yet those elections resulted in more than 50 people convicted of absentee ballot fraud and a judge throwing out all absentee ballot results because they were so compromised, shaking up City Hall with a new mayor in the process.
There may no longer be hanging chads to compromise the integrity of a Florida election, as happened in 2000, but lax state laws still allow all sorts of shenanigans — from ballot brokers who get paid by candidates’ campaigns to hunt for absentee ballots at assisted living facilities and other senior centers to opening up absentee ballot request lists only to candidates and certain political campaign committees.
“Many of our legislative recommendations are easy to implement as we are only asking that they reinstate laws that were previously on the books,” the grand jury report notes. One of those old laws required people who vote absentee to have a witness (with an address and signature) on the envelope returning the ballot. That would be one way to put so-called boleteros on notice.
Another way to help combat fraud: Expand the county’s supervised voting program which encourages senior centers to work with the elections office so that absentee ballots are delivered and collected by trained elections workers. “With the supervised voting program, the voting of an absentee ballot mirrors that of live, in-person voting . . . and the marking of the ballot is done without any solicitations or outside influences,” the report states.
Wouldn’t that be something? We’ve all heard the rumors of payola by boleteros to people working at senior centers and ALFs to gain access to elderly or disabled voters and “help” them fill out their absentee ballots.
When the grand jury was empanelled by State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle the news reports about absentee ballot fraud were ripe for the picking, but as the group worked on recommendations it became clear that access was being denied, too, and the long lines were likely turning away voters.
GOP-controlled Tallahassee cut the number of days for early voting (particularly the Sunday before Election Day, the so-called “Souls to the Polls” effort that has been popular among black churches that help bus their congregants to voting sites). The state also limited the places early voting can occur, so that local elections supervisors couldn’t open up more sites in areas where they were most needed even when it became clear that the lines of voters were overwhelming.
“The grand jury was strongly inclined to recommend that the legislature reinstate the ‘for cause’ requirement that existed when absentee ballots initially became available,” the grand jury noted. “In light of the debacle that was the 2012 General Election, we are loathe to make such a recommendation.”
It used to be that voters could get an absentee ballot only if they would be out of town on Election Day or for health reasons. But once the legislature allowed absentee voting for any reason, it’s become wildly popular. Thus the grand jury’s conundrum:
“How much longer would the lines have been and how much more time would voters have had to wait in those lines if instead of using absentee ballots, Miami-Dade County’s 242,251 absentee ballot voters actually showed up at their precincts or early voting sites?”