Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Fighting fraud

 

OUR OPINION: Mayor Gimenez strikes a blow for transparency in absentee-ballot requests

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

The more the public knows about the voting process, the better — especially in a state with a serial history of presidential Election Day snafus and in a county — Miami-Dade to be exact — where attempts to commit voter fraud occasionally make headlines. For instance, if the Miami Herald hadn’t been able to obtain the Internet Protocol addresses for absentee-ballot requests last year, the paper might not have uncovered a local fraudster attempting to unlawfully submit absentee-ballot requests in bulk online.

The Herald article prompted a state investigation resulting in the arrest of the then-chief of staff for Miami Congressman Joe Garcia, a first-term Democrat who was not implicated in the scheme. Another probe uncovered two aides’ hijinks in Miami City Commissioner Francis Suarez’s 2012 mayoral campaign when they tried to obtain absentee ballots on behalf of some voters. They pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and, although Mr. Suarez wasn’t accused of wrongdoing, the scandal derailed his mayoral bid.

So Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez made the right call in decreeing public access to IP addresses for absentee-ballot requests submitted online. Last year, Miami-Dade Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley sought an opinion from the Florida Division of Elections about whether the IP addresses should be made public. State elections officials ruled that it was up to each election supervisor to keep secret any absentee-ballot information deemed “necessary” beyond, by state statute, allowing access for political candidates, committees and parties. Ms. Townsley opted for secrecy.

Next came Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez, Francis Suarez’s father, asking Mr. Gimenez to use his executive authority to overrule Ms. Townsley’s decision. Good for Messrs. Suarez and Gimenez.

Most vote-fraud attempts in Miami-Dade have involved absentee ballots. Dead people have voted on occasion. So have voters with dementia. It’s all about collecting and submitting enough absentee ballots to skew a political race’s outcome. Using the Internet to wrongfully obtain absentee ballots is just the latest iteration of an old game involving visits to retirement homes and senior centers.

Truth is, public access to this information shouldn’t be up to the discretion of 67 Florida elections supervisors. The Legislature should make such online information public record statewide. More Floridians are opting to vote early or absentee, which in the latter case often involves an Internet exchange between voters and elections offices. Lawmakers and elections supervisors should consult IT experts to ensure accuracy in voter rolls and to prevent fraud via the Internet.

Last week President Obama’s elections commission, appointed after problems in several states — including Florida, of course — emerged on Election Day 2012, offered recommendations to streamline voting and ensure voters can cast ballots in a timely manner. Fortunately, the Legislature and Gov. Scott amended their politically motivated efforts to curb minority voters’ participation in the 2012 election by restoring longer early-voting hours and increasing polling places in 2013.

But Mr. Scott still is focused on purges to root out ineligible voters. Aside from the two attempts to illegally gain absentee ballots, there is no compelling evidence of fraudulent voting here. The presidential commission is emphasizing improving voters access and convenience. Those should be Mr. Scott’s primary goals, too.

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