The election scandal dogging Congressman Joe Garcia’s campaign and two state House races makes it clear: Computer techies are supplementing old-school, block-walking ballot-brokers known as boleteras.
Over just a few days last July, at least two groups of schemers used computers traced to Miami, India and the United Kingdom to fraudulently request the ballots of 2,046 Miami-Dade voters.
Garcia said he knew nothing of the plot that recently implicated three former campaign workers, two employed in his congressional office. Investigators, meanwhile, have hit a dead end with a larger fraud involving two state House races.
A third incident cropped up Thursday in Miami’s mayoral race, but the case appears unrelated to last year’s fraud when two groups appeared to act separately from each other. They employed different tactics to target different types of voters, a University of Florida/Miami Herald analysis of election data indicates.
The ultimate goal was the same: get mail-in ballots into the hands of voters, a job that many boleteras once handled on the streets of Miami-Dade.
Now, it’s electronic.
“This is the e- boletera era of Miami politics,” said Daniel Smith, a UF political science professor who analyzed the voting data previously examined by The Miami Herald.
“Garcia’s campaign is taking the fall,” Smith said, “but the data clearly indicate there are other interests in other races involved, and they went about the fraud in different ways and sought different types of voters.”
Campaigns highly prize absentee ballots and target their voters. It’s a good way to bank votes early in a state where the mail-in voting period starts weeks before Election Day.
But because absentee ballots are cast out of the eye of election officials, the mail-in style of voting is the most fraud-prone — and the most likely to be at the center of electoral whodunits.
So far, police and prosecutors have raided four locations related to two separate schemes implicating at least four campaigns and four campaign workers. Separately, they’re also prosecuting two absentee-ballot boleteras (Spanish for “balloteer”). Another has become a witness.
It can be a third-degree felony in Florida to submit an absentee-ballot request for anyone who’s not an immediate family member. Requesting an absentee ballot online with a non-family member’s personal identification can be a first-degree felony.
Florida cracked down on absentee-ballot abuses after Miami’s 1997 fraud-marred mayoral race. Now, decades later, another Miami mayoral race is back in the news.
A computer savvy worker for Commissioner Francis Suarez, whose father’s 1997 mayoral campaign became collateral damage in the fraud at that time, used his computer to submit 20 absentee ballots requests of other voters.
Suarez suggested it was a misunderstanding — not illegality — because the employee, Juan Pablo Baggini, had the permission of the voters.
“I have all confidence that once the investigation is concluded the facts will reflect that no willful violations of the law occurred,” Suarez said in a statement.
Still, Baggini’s home was raided Thursday by police and investigators with the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office who had traced the Internet Protocol addresses linked to the ballot requests to Baggini.