Two men knocked on the door of Betty Brockingtons bright orchid-pink Homestead house Wednesday night, asking for her familys four absentee ballots. They worked for political campaigns, they said, and could take care of mailing them.
Brockington named the candidates she, her husband and two nieces wanted to vote for in the Nov. 5 city mayor and council races. The two men sat in a pair of chairs on the porch, filled out the ballots out of the familys sight and stuffed them in ballot envelopes.
Brockington and her husband, Willie Snead, both 54, and their younger niece, Taquesha Robinson, 19, signed the envelopes without reviewing the ballots.
But when it was the older nieces turn, 22-year-old Robkevia Scott, who had been watching South Beach Tow on television while the men sat in the porch, refused to give the men her ballot.
She grabbed it back and realized the two men had filled the bubbles for precisely the candidates the family did not support: mayoral candidate Mark Bell and council candidate Norman Hodge Jr.
I didnt want to vote for those people, Scott said.
Scott contacted the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust, which has followed up with the family over the apparent absentee-ballot fraud. The Miami-Dade state attorneys office has also been alerted. Both agencies declined to comment about any potential investigations.
Miami-Dade elections have been plagued by absentee-fraud scandals since last summer, when two Hialeah ballot brokers known as boleteros√ were arrested. Deisy Cabrera and Sergio El Tío Robaina have since pleaded no contest and received probation.
Earlier this year, after a Miami Herald report, prosecutors reopened an investigation into hundreds of phony absentee-ballot requests submitted online, which they have linked to Congressman Joe Garcias 2012 campaign. No arrests have been made.
Ever since Miami-Dade County tightened up some absentee ballot legislation, it has been illegal for anyone to possess ballots other than their own. The only exception is for an immediate family member or legal guardian.
The Homestead incident was first reported by the Political Cortadito blog.
At least one of the two men who filled out the Brockington familys ballots, James Brady, the corresponding secretary for the Miami-Dade Republican Party, works for Bell, the husband of Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell. Brockington and Scott identified a photograph of Brady, who went to school with one of Brockingtons sons.
The second man remains unidentified. Brockington and Scott described him only as Haitian.
On Friday, Brady denied filling out or collecting any ballots. Mark Bell denied that his campaign engages in any absentee-ballot brokering.
They accused Brockington and Scott of lying at the behest of a rival political operative, Timothy Milton.
What I think is happening is Mr. Milton is upset because our team is gathering ABs, Bell said. He quickly corrected himself. Not gathering them, you know what I mean, but talking to voters.
Milton, who works for mayoral candidate Jeff Porter and Councilman Jimmie Williams III, did not respond to a request for comment left on his cell phone or to a message left in person at his Homestead home.
But Brockington, who said she has known Milton for years because he has distributed fliers for campaigns, said he had nothing to do with Wednesdays incident.
The unidentified Haitian man first dropped by her house Monday asking about if the blank ballots had arrived. They hadnt, so he said he would return, said Brockington, a mother of seven and grandmother of 10.
He came back after dinner Wednesday, with Brady, she said.
He said he was friends with Jimmie, Brockington said, referring to the councilman. I always vote for him.
Brady, 31, initially told two reporters from the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald who visited his Florida City home Friday that the Haitian man whom he identified as Emmanuel told him they should go to Brockingtons home because the family had received their blank ballots.
But then Brady denied going to the house at all.
We didnt fill out ballots, said Brady, a project manager for a roofing company who ran unsuccessfully for a Florida City Commission seat in 2010 and 2012. I was not on her porch. I was not at her house.
He claimed that he and the other man worked for Bells campaign through another man named Tyrone who ran a campaign operation out of a Homestead church.
Brady could not name the church, and two churches near the intersection he identified were padlocked Friday.
Later in the day, when a reporter was interviewing Bell in his campaign headquarters, Brady showed up and pretended not to know which Tyrone the reporter was talking about.
You all know a Tyrone? I dont know a Tyrone, Brady said.
Bell said he hired Brady directly. Campaign finance reports show Bell paid Brady $1,560 between Sept. 7 and Oct. 11.
Bell maintained that his campaign would not fill out voters ballots or collect them.
Nobody on this team would do that, he said in an interview at his campaign headquarters. They know the laws. They know what the rules are. My guys know. They dont do anything illegal.
But Brockington said she felt duped and hoped her family would get a chance to cast ballots for their preferred candidates. In that case, the Miami-Dade elections department would have to receive the tainted ballots and flag them, and a canvassing board would have to throw them out.
Can we do ours over? Because we dont know what he put on there, she said. You dont take advantage of people like that. You dont pick who I vote for.