Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Ferreting out fraud


OUR OPINION: Miami-Dade beefs up absentee-ballot protections, but must remain vigilant

You can’t overstate the value of maintaining the integrity of the election process, but Miami-Dade County sure did balk at the price. Confident that it can catch fraudulent requests for absentee ballots submitted online, the Miami-Dade Elections Department has opted to toughen up its computer software.

In doing so, Miami-Dade rejected a grand-jury recommendation to make the website secure by requiring users to enter logins and passwords to request absentee ballots.

According to Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley, this method would have required an investment of about $843,000 to set up, followed by a recurring cost of $743,000 during major elections. At a time when Miami-Dade County is facing the ire of public workers seeking more pay, cutting back library hours and fending off animal lovers unhappy with the status of the Pets’ Trust proposal, there was, no doubt, little appetite to pony up major money for the login/password system. Beefing up the back end of the computer software won’t cost the county any money.

But now it’s up to the county to ensure that the real costs aren’t instead a corruptible — or corrupted — election process. There are dishonest dealers looking to beat the system, and the elections department has to stay two steps ahead.

Election 2012 was a scary eye-opener in Miami-Dade. Thousands of fraudulent online requests for absentee ballots were submitted online last year. To the Election Department’s credit, staffers caught them and alerted prosecutors. Most came from foreign IP addresses and could not be traced. However, the Miami Herald sussed out that about 500 requests were submitted from much closer to home — linked to aides to U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

An investigation continues. No one has been charged, but it definitely appears to have crossed the line. Under state law, only voters or their immediate family members can submit ballot requests.

The grand jury asserted that the login/passwords approach could introduce a higher catch rate. There’s a downside, too. Right now, absentee ballots can be requested up to a few days out from an election. If the county went with the login method, a PIN number would be mailed to each voter making the request.

No doubt, the county would have to put more time between granting the request and Election Day, cutting into the time people have to cast a ballot. And with mail service often iffy . . .

No matter the security method, the county can only crow about the fraudulent requests that have been caught — indeed, no small feat. But it’s impossible to determine what fraudulent requests slipped through.

Challenging absentee-ballot fraud has gotten a strong assist from Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and her task force of police officers from at least seven agencies and a phalanx of prosecutors.

State lawmakers, too, have a duty here, but they are shirking it. There’s no state law (only a Miami-Dade ordinance) regarding the collection of an absentee ballot. This makes it tougher to come down hard on the types of ballot brokers that have infiltrated Miami-Dade and seeped into other counties.

But the GOP-majority Legislature is loathe to cut into its political advantage, counting on, for instance, senior citizens among its supporters — voters most likely to use absentee ballots.

This is not the way to ensure fair and clean elections — something on which you just can’t put a price.

Read more Editorials stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category