POLITICS

Miami-Dade GOP candidates told to avoid using ballot brokers

 

eflor@ElNuevoHerald.com

The head of the Republican Party of Miami Dade County said on Monday that all local candidates under his wing will be given strict guidelines to avoid using ballot brokers in their campaigns.

“The party will not employ people to collect absentee ballots,” said chairman Nelson Díaz. “We can’t allow people to take advantage of voters and fill out their absentee ballots.”

Diaz’s announcement came as a response to stories published by El Nuevo Herald over the weekend about the contents of three notebooks that were apparently kept by Deisy Pentón de Cabrera, who was charged last summer with ballot fraud in Hialeah.

According to her own notes, Cabrera maintained updated, handwritten lists of more than 550 voters, mostly elderly Hispanics from Hialeah, whom she visited each election cycle. She also followed directives written by others to visit particular groups of absentee voters.

Cabrera appeared to work only on campaigns for Republican candidates, as well as judicial candidates, who run on a non-partisan basis and are prohibited from taking stands on issues.

Political analyst and campaign consultant Dario Moreno said he was happy to hear Diaz’s announcement. For years, Moreno said, too many local Republican campaigns have depended on a cottage industry of ballot brokers, known as boleteros in Spanish. These brokers, who operate in communities including Hialeah, Little Havana and Miami Beach, go after absentee voters who tend to be elderly, Hispanic and conservative.

“Nelson Diaz’s decision shows a great political maturity,” Moreno says. “I think that Republicans have learned that there are other ways to win elections without abusing the absentee ballot system.”

Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, who chairs the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, said she was pleased to hear of the Republican Party’s initiative. “It’ll be great for them to seek out the vote in legitimate ways,” she said.

Ballots brokers aren’t strictly Republican. Sergio “el Tío” Robaina, who was also arrested on ballot fraud charges last summer, is a proud Democrat.

He has told El Nuevo Herald that while he’s collected ballots from his friends and neighbors in the past, he’s never done it for money.

Both Robaina and Cabrera have pleaded not guilty. Miami-Dade police were able to investigate their activities in part because of a county ordinance that went into effect last summer that penalizes the collection of absentee ballots.

Private detective Joe Carrillo, who first tipped off Miami-Dade police to Cabrera’s activities, worried that authorities haven’t worked hard enough to determine who paid Cabrera to pick up the ballots.

“It’s obvious that when you have judges, the state attorney and the mayor benefiting from this, that nothing is going to be done to put an end to the fraud,” he said.

Cabrera’s arrest tainted the reelection campaigns of county Mayor Carlos Gimenez and State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle. Cabrera was a regular visitor to Gimenez’s Hialeah campaign office. Fernández Rundle wound up recusing herself from the case after learning that someone who worked for her own campaign had been seen with Cabrera.

Read more Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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