Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Election fraud: From the streets to cyberspace

As ballot-fraud scandals mount, voters should be worried about the integrity of elections. Phantom ballot requests have now tainted two congressional races, two state legislative races and even the current Miami mayor’s race involving both major political parties. This equal-opportunity corruption must end.

In the latest flap, county elections workers found about 20 absentee-ballot requests made on May 29 by one computer belonging to a campaign worker for Commissioner Francis Suarez, who is running for Miami mayor. Mr. Suarez makes a compelling case that this was one big misunderstanding because, unlike in other cases being investigated, his campaign had signed permission from those voters to solicit the absentee ballots. Permission or not, it’s illegal to solicit ballots unless the one asking for the ballots is a family member of the voters in question.

Voters who go to the polls on Election Day or during early voting are vetted intensely. They must produce identification to vote, but absentee voting has turned into a hornet’s nest of operators trying to outdo opposing campaigns in ways that are either illegal or should be.

On the opposite page, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle lays out the work her task force of 50 police officers from seven agencies and her cadre of prosecutors has done so far to get to the bottom of phantom ballot requests online and to go after so-called boleteros. These ballot brokers are hired by campaigns to pick up absentee ballots from elderly voters in nursing homes or at the daytime comedores that entertain them.

Ms. Fernandez Rundle points to the difficulty in making many of these cases stick because Florida’s voting laws are so lax. She’s right, of course.

The Legislature has resisted beefing up state elections laws. The Miami-Dade County Commission has toughened the countywide ordinance to make it illegal for an absentee ballot to be collected by a ballot broker. Still, the penalty amounts to a slap on the hand.

State law makes it a third-degree felony to submit an absentee-ballot request for anyone who’s not an immediate family member, but there’s no state law pertaining to the collection of an absentee ballot. Miami-Dade County has such an ordinance limiting the collection of absentee ballots to only an absentee voter’s family member. It should be a statewide mandate because such shenanigans are occurring in other counties.

Why won’t the Legislature act and simply outlaw collection?

Simple. Partisanship and demographics. The Republican majority in the Legislature counts particularly on senior citizens for political support, and they are the most likely voters to seek absentee ballots so they don’t have to stand in line. Democrats, by contrast, count more on early voting for their supporters, often young workers and college students, to get to the polls during lunchtime or on weekends leading up to the election.

But as the Sunday story by Herald reporters Marc Caputo and Patricia Mazzei points out, computer-savvy campaign workers are now replacing the old-time boleteros in campaign tactics, and it’s a bipartisan free-for-all that’s moved from South Florida’s streets to cyberspace.

The Miami-Dade County election office’s computers seem to have caught the attempts for abusing the system so far, but without tough state laws to punish these political operators and their candidates, it’s still a game of hide and seek — one that puts our democracy in peril.

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