Detectives raided a political worker’s home Thursday after he submitted other voters’ absentee-ballot request forms to help Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez’s mayoral campaign, which spun into damage-control mode and said no one intentionally broke the law.
The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office targeted Juan Pablo Baggini after county elections workers flagged a series of 20 absentee-ballot requests made on May 29 that were linked to Baggini’s computer.
“I can’t say anything, it’s an ongoing investigation,” Baggini, 37, said at his Coconut Grove office. He is listed as the “operations director’’ for Suarez’s campaign.
The raid at Baggini’s Continental Park home was the second performed by police and prosecutors since May 31, when investigators searched three locations in a separate absentee-ballot fraud case involving the 2012 campaign of U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia. The Miami Democrat has said he wasn’t aware three of his staffers might have fraudulently requested absentee ballots for hundreds of voters without their permission.
One of those Garcia campaign workers briefly volunteered for Suarez’s mayoral campaign.
Suarez said he welcomes an investigation by “any agency” because his campaign did not knowingly do anything wrong.
“We feel confident that once they investigate the circumstances fully, it will be apparent nothing was done to purposely violate the law,” he said at City Hall, where he was on the dais for a city commission meeting Thursday. “They will conclude that everything was done legally.’’
Suarez said the 20 voters in question signed a form provided by his campaign that “mirrors” an official county ballot-request document. Suarez said it was his understanding that the form gave the campaign the authority to request an absentee ballot on that person’s behalf.
Police armed with a search warrant seized those 20 forms from Baggini’s home, Suarez said, noting: “Every single voter an absentee ballot was requested for had given authorization.’’
But it might not matter.
It can be a third-degree felony in Florida to submit an absentee-ballot request for anyone who is not an immediate family member. It also can be a first-degree felony to use another person’s confidential information online.
Even if a person supplies a campaign with his or her personal information to request an absentee ballot, it’s still illegal for the campaign to submit the request.
“The law is clear: You can’t do it,” said Mark Herron, a Tallahassee-based state election-law lawyer who has represented hundreds of political clients across the political spectrum.
“You would think Suarez would know this,” said Herron, referencing the 1997 absentee-ballot fraud that occurred during the Miami mayoral race of the commissioner’s father, current County Commissioner Xavier Suarez. A court effectively removed Xavier Suarez from the mayor’s post and invalidated that election after finding massive ballot fraud; Xavier was not implicated in the wrongdoing.
After that campaign, the Legislature passed a series of laws designed to ensure that absentee ballots — the easiest to commit voter fraud with because they’re mailed in — are more secure.