The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Winning back Miami-Dade voters’ confidence


OUR OPINION: Miami-Dade Commission and a judge have taken the right steps to end absentee ballot fraud

A Miami-Dade County ordinance cracking down on absentee ballot brokers, or boleteros, survived a legal attack last week. The same day, county commissioners approved a new measure to track how campaigns pay workers involved in collection of absentee ballots.

The ruling and the measure both send a message that voters must be longing to hear: We’re not going to put up with the taint of fraud and corruption in Miami-Dade elections anymore.

While Florida’s elections have been a national joke more than once, with hanging chads, butterfly ballots and dead voters, Miami-Dade has managed to distinguish itself with its own special brand of election bottom-feeders.

Ballot brokers sell their services to candidates, offering to collect absentee ballots, especially from the elderly or infirm, which allows the broker to influence how those ballots are filled out — or fill them out themselves.

It’s a corrupting force that was somewhat defanged by the ordinance banning collection of multiple ballots.

Under the ordinance, a person may turn in only two absentee ballots in addition to his or her own: one belonging to an immediate family member and another belonging to a voter who has signed a sworn statement designating that person as responsible.

The ordinance, approved by the County Commission two years ago to address the election fraud issue, took effect July 1.

It was only a matter of weeks before two Hialeah ballot brokers were charged with violating the law during the August primaries. Lawyers for one, Sergio “El Tio” Robaina, challenged the ordinance as unconstitutional saying it was unfair because it applies to elections in districts that exceed Miami-Dade’s borders and violates a citizen’s right to vote, among other reasons.

In a 15-page ruling issued Wednesday, Judge Milton Hirsch didn’t rule on the constitutionality question, instead using the logic that Robaina didn’t have the standing to make those claims.

Only the people whose ballots he carried could file such a challenge.

The upshot? The court case against Robaina proceeds. More important, the law stands.

Equally heartening was the decision by the County Commission last week to require candidates to disclose who they pay to collect absentee ballots — including those hired by campaign consultants. That’s an important loophole to close. Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, sponsor of the measure, said he hoped it would help win back voters’ confidence.

That positive step follows one in September, when commissioners decided that the county should pre-pay return postage for absentee ballots.

Prepaid postage can help reduce ballot tampering. As the use of absentee ballots continues to skyrocket, that provision will become increasingly important.

But there’s a disquieting déjà vu to all of it. The prepaid envelopes were first suggested by a grand jury nearly 15 years ago, back in the dead-voter era of shame, where election fraud was so rampant a city commissioner ended up in jail and the losing mayoral candidate became the winner.

Just this past September, another grand jury spent its time on the same topic, issuing 23 recommendations to prevent absentee ballot fraud. The impetus? The arrests of the Hialeah ballot brokers.

We’ve been here before, folks. The perception of Miami as a corrupt, fraud-ridden place must be overcome. Time to break the cycle, once and for all.

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