Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez wasn’t the only candidate called by the Elections Department in June to fix a flawed check for the 2016 campaign. Ana Ibarra, who ran unopposed for a community taxing district, also was contacted to clean-up a qualifying check with a flubbed date, a top election official said Saturday.
The Ibarra check could serve as a rebuttal to Thursday’s lawsuit by mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado, which seeks to disqualify the incumbent over submitting a $1,800 check to Elections four months ago that was dated 2015 instead of 2016.
Regalado claims the Elections Department, which Gimenez supervises, gave him special treatment by allowing his campaign to rush over a late-night replacement the night before the June 21 deadline to qualify for the race. But Carolina Lopez, deputy elections supervisor, said candidates routinely get called if county staff see errors in filing materials.
“The best practice is to notify the candidate if you see anything,” Lopez said during a hastily arranged deposition Saturday in Regalado vs. Gimenez.
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Regalado’s litigation comes less than two weeks before Election Day on Nov. 8, and has been blasted by the incumbent’s campaign as a publicity stunt aimed at discouraging Gimenez voters in a race where a recent poll showed him well ahead. Regalado, a school-board member, claims she waited until late October to file the suit because the Elections Department dragged its feet in proving the flawed check delivered June 17 was handled properly.
State law requires candidates to replace any qualifying check returned by a bank with a cashiers check, and Regalado’s suit claims the June 17 check from Gimenez was rejected by the campaign’s bank. Both Elections and Gimenez representatives deny that, saying Elections held the original check until a new one was submitted on June 20.
“One of the central issues in this case was to find out when that check was taken to the bank, and if it wasn’t, why not?” Regalado lawyer Peter Gonzalez told Lopez, who was the only witness questioned during the two-hour session in an Elections Department conference room during the first Saturday of early voting in Miami-Dade.
Regalado, a lawyer, watched the questioning but barely spoke during the proceedings, which were open to the public. Gimenez did not attend, and his Twitter feed showed him campaigning Saturday. Both sides are due in Miami-Dade Circuit Court Monday for a 9 a.m. hearing before Judge Michael Hanzman.
Lopez said the Elections Department’s policy is to give candidates a chance to fix errors in filing documents, and that Gimenez received no special treatment. She offered new details on the scramble by the Gimenez camp to fix the check in a campaign where the mayor has criticized Regalado for not being able to “balance a checkbook” over financial woes tied to a 2014 foreclosure of her home.
The campaign said treasurer Tom McDonald filled out and signed the flawed check, which Gimenez delivered before television cameras on June 17. When Lopez said the incorrect year was picked up during a routine review of qualifying documents on June 20, she went online to research if a bank would accept a check from a year ago. Convinced there might be a problem, she called Gimenez fundraiser Brian Goldmeier to notify him of the issue.
After 10 p.m. that night, Goldmeier, McDonald and Gimenez campaign manager Jesse Manzano-Plaza arrived at Elections headquarters with a replacement check. The qualifying deadline was noon the next day.
Gonzalez pressed Lopez on what authority she had to contact a campaign about flawed submissions. State law instructs election officials to make a “reasonable effort” to let campaigns fix “incomplete documents,” and Lopez said she considered the outdated check to be incomplete.
She said the agency followed a similar procedure when Ibarra, a county police officer, submitted the needed $25 check to run for reelection on the Pentathlon Community Development District, a special taxing district in southwest Miami-Dade. The check by Ibarra, who could not be reached Saturday, was dated June 20, 20116. The check was received June 20, and Lopez said Elections contacted Ibarra and Gimenez’s campaign that day to give them the chance to fix the problems.
“Both of them provided a replacement check,” Lopez said.