Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Voters beware of boleteras


OUR OPINION: Early voting marks start of election fraud season

Miami Beach resident, Michael Frank, casts his ballot at the Miami Beach Training Center during early  <span class="bold">voting</span> on Monday.
Miami Beach resident, Michael Frank, casts his ballot at the Miami Beach Training Center during early voting on Monday.
Emily Michot / MIAMI HERALD

The start of the election season rekindles fears of a return to action by the notorious protagonists of electoral fraud known in South Florida as boleteras.

The boleteras are grassroots campaign workers on steroids. They recruit and handle the absentee ballots of voters, mostly the elderly or disabled, and allegedly persuade them to favor candidates who have them on their campaign payroll as employees. The fraud is committed under the guise of delivering the voters’ ballots to the elections department, free of charge. How convenient.

In 2012, a boletera scandal erupted in Miami-Dade when the work of a Hialeah woman named Deisy Cabrera was uncovered.

Ultimately, Ms. Cabrera’s shenanigans proved to be minor in the sea of electoral corruption. Interestingly, the Miami-Dade state attorney's office granted immunity to Anamary Pedrosa, the alleged coordinator of several of the boleteras like Ms. Cabrera. The move left in the shadows the boletera case which had tentacles to the campaigns of two state representatives and four judges.

There were more complications in the probe. Citing a conflict of interest, the investigation was passed on to the Broward State Attorney's Office because one of the boleteras worked in the reelection campaigns of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Then, it took the Miami-Dade police public corruption unit seven months to send their investigative report to Broward. By then, the brouhaha about the boleteras had subsided.

Some light was shed on the work of the boleteras. The probe revealed that Ms. Pedrosa and Ms. Cabrera operated in a small universe of about 500 voters, mostly elderly Hispanics, suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s or disabled by other ailments. Many were shut-ins. But in general, they had one thing in common: For one reason or another, they could be persuaded to vote for this or that candidate — with the aid of a helpful boletera.

The investigation also uncovered lists of judicial candidates billed by Ms. Pedrosa for the services of the boleteras. But the authorities were unable to drill deep enough to get to the root of the scandal. That's a shame.

The handling of absentee ballots to favor a certain candidate is a crime. It also represents the betrayal of the voters’ trust in the election system. When that trust is lost, democracy is weakened. Thus, voter fraud of any kind is a direct attack on our political system.

As early voting gets underway and the Aug. 26 primary nears, authorities need to be alert to uncover the newest avalanche of ticket sellers, like the boleteras, willing to undermine the balloting to promote the election of corrupt politicians. This year, Ms. Fernandez Rundle is taking measures to prevent electoral fraud, including the launching of a hot line (305-547-3300) to report voting irregularities.

It’s forbidden for anyone to turn in more than two absentee ballots to the elections department, according to an ordinance proposed by Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa and approved in 2011. Violators face a fine and jail time.

Until then, voters should not accept the services of anyone who, on the pretext of doing a good deed, fills out their absentee ballots in a way that benefits the candidate that hired them.

The war against electoral fraud requires continued vigilance. The scandal of the boleteras should not be repeated this election season.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article gave erroeneous information about the cost of mailing absenttee ballots. Miami-Dade County pays the postage of returning the ballots to the elections department, but only for ballots that include county-wide races, not municipal elections.

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