July 29, 2012

As Hialeah absentee-ballot probe continues, voter regrets accepting help

An illiterate senior citizen said she trusted the woman at the center of an absentee-ballot investigation to fill out her ballot. Now it’s out of her hands.

Matilde Galindo, who is 75 and illiterate, has no clue who she voted for last week.

She said that late in June, Daisy Cabrera, an acquaintance of a distant relative, offered to help her register as a Miami-Dade County voter. Then, on July 22, Cabrera dropped by the Hialeah home that Galindo shares with her husband, Basilio, 78.

“She filled out the ballot and asked me to sign it,” Galindo said Saturday. “On that long ballot, she made little marks and told me, ‘This one and this one, that’s how you should vote.’ ”

Galindo and her husband said they told Cabrera they wanted to vote for the Republican Party. But they don’t know a single candidate for county mayor, the School Board or the state Legislature.

“I don’t know. She chose them all,” Galindo said, adding that Cabrera took the ballot when she left.

Authorities are investigating Cabrera, 56, after finding her in possession of dozens of absentee ballots last week in Hialeah. It is the first case of its kind since a new county ordinance took effect this month that makes it a misdemeanor to possess two or more ballots belonging to someone else.

Cabrera did not respond to multiple visits to her Hialeah apartment last week seeking comment.

Her supporters say she is simply a campaign volunteer and not just a so-called “ boletera,” the Spanish term for those who get paid by campaigns to collect absentee ballots in their favor. But on Friday, a state representative as well as the father of a former Hialeah City Council member said Cabrera had approached them with an offer to deliver ballots in exchange for money.

“She offered me her services, but I turned her down,” said state Rep. Carlos López-Cantera, now running for Miami-Dade property appraiser. “The vote is something sacred, and we have to do everything possible to keep the process clean.”

López-Cantera refused to say how much money Cabrera asked for.

Julian Miel, whose daughter Cindy is a former Hialeah councilwoman, said Cabrera offered last year to collect absentee ballots for $1,500.

Cabrera has not been charged. Authorities say they are deepening their investigation.

Sources familiar with the case have said that Cabrera had at least a dozen absentee ballots in hand Wednesday when she and another woman, Matilde Martinez, 73, were pulled over in a traffic stop in Hialeah. Miami-Dade police detectives had been following Cabrera since the previous day, when she was also documented with ballots in hand.

At least one activist has criticized the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office for not charging Cabrera.

“Why wait?” asked Vanessa Britto, who headed an effort last year to recall some county commissioners. “Now is when it matters most because it could send a message to other boleteros that, if they do this kind of thing, they will be arrested.”

For the past decade, Cabrera and Martínez have volunteered for a variety of Hialeah political campaigns. Friends and supporters say call and visit absentee voters to promote their candidates.

“She is not a boletera,” said community activist Rafael Pérez, who helped run Rudy Garcia’s failed bid for Hialeah mayor last year. “She only picks up ballots from her friends to help them out. This has been taken out of proportion.”

One of the voters she has helped is Raúl Coto, 50. He said they met at a political event in Hialeah and that Cabrera offered to take his absentee ballot to the post office. Coto accepted.

“The lady did me the favor because I don’t have the time,” said Coto, who is unemployed.

Cabrera is disabled, unable to drive and struggles to climb the stairs to her second-floor apartment. Martínez is a widow who once sold clothes out of a van in Hialeah.

The case was first investigated by a private detective who has declined to say who he works for. Joe Carrillo taped Cabrera as she visited various voters’ homes, a post office and the Hialeah campaign headquarters of county Mayor Carlos Giménez, who is running for reelection against County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez. Giménez has denied that the women work for his campaign.

Carrillo delivered the evidence to Miami-Dade public corruption detectives, who ran their own investigation. Carrillo also shared a video with AmericaTeVe-Channel 41, which aired details of the investigation on Wednesday. It was because of that show that Galindo learned the woman who she says filled out her ballot is known as a boletera in Hialeah.

Now Galindo, who first told her story to Telemundo-Channel 51 on Friday, says that she feels deceived.

“This was a sham. She has no shame,” she said. “I even fed her flan pudding and served her coffee in my kitchen.”

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