August 30, 2012

Two more defeated candidates in Miami-Dade challenge election results, citing absentee ballot fraud probe

The lawsuits, filed by legislative candidate Paul Crespo and judicial candidate Alex Jimenez Labora, come after a defeated mayoral candidate and the Miami-Dade property appraiser also contested the election.

Two more candidates defeated in Miami-Dade County races earlier this month have sued to contest the results, citing a Hialeah absentee-ballot fraud investigation. The lawsuits bring the total number of complaints stemming from the probe to four.

Paul Crespo, who lost a Republican primary against state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, and Alex Jimenez Labora, who came up short in a judicial race against Maria de Jesus Santovenia, filed separate lawsuits Tuesday asking the court to discard absentee ballots cast in the contests.

In the race for an open circuit judge seat, Santovenia, an assistant North Miami Beach city attorney, defeated Labora, a traffic magistrate, 52 percent to 48 percent. Without the absentee vote, according to his lawsuit, Labora would have won, 51 percent to 49 percent.

“My early voting was almost 50-50, and the day of the election I was ahead, and in absentee ballots I was way off,” Labora said. “It didn’t quite make sense.”

Santovenia declined to comment, saying she was unaware the lawsuit had been filed. Candidates had until Tuesday to challenge the Aug. 14 election results.

In the Republican primary for Florida House District 105, Trujillo garnered 56 percent of the vote, compared to Crespo’s 44 percent. Trujillo noted he would win the election even if the absentee ballots were not counted.

“He still loses,” Trujillo said of Crespo. “I’m not sure what he wants.”

Crespo said that without the Miami-Dade absentee vote, he would lose by only 39 votes. “That’s within the margin of a recount,” he said.

District 105 includes portions of Broward and Collier counties. Crespo, who said he won the total vote in Collier and lost the total Broward vote by a mere five votes, is not challenging those results.

Late last week, County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez and Property Appraiser Pedro J. Garcia filed similar complaints asking the court to throw out absentee ballots in their respective races.

Martinez lost his mayoral bid to incumbent Carlos Gimenez; Garcia lost his reelection to state Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. Without the absentee vote, the mayoral race would have gone to a runoff, and Garcia would have defeated Lopez-Cantera.

A hearing has yet to be set in those cases. On Wednesday, Gimenez’s attorneys, Kendall Coffey and Robert Fernandez, asked the court to expedite the matter. The county elections department has set a Sept. 7 deadline to put races on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

All four complaints cite the arrests of two Hialeah ballot brokers, known as boleteros, who have been charged with voter fraud. Police say that Deisy Cabrera forged a terminally ill woman’s signature and that, in a separate case, Sergio Robaina filled out two absentee ballots for different candidates than the voters involved wanted.

Authorities linked 195 absentee ballots to Cabrera, Robaina or other suspected ballot collectors. Of those, six ballots were seized as part of the ongoing investigation and not counted. Another four ballots were rejected by the county’s three-member canvassing board because the signatures on the ballot envelopes did not match voter signatures on file with the elections department.

In their motion filed Wednesday, Gimenez’s attorneys wrote that there is minimal “evidence of impropriety” in the election.

“Although the complaint has few specifics, it is evident that it relies on so-called fraud that is numerically insignificant and is not even alleged to be widespread or pervasive,” the motion says.

Crespo, however, said his campaign is looking into other fraud allegations, particularly in Sweetwater, where he said a couple of precincts saw a “spike” in absentee votes. In a column published on The Herald’s op-ed page Sunday, Crespo said seniors at a Sweetwater residence said a person “closely related to an important city official ‘handled’ their absentee voting at the center.”

“I think there was wrongdoing, and I want it to be uncovered,” Crespo said Thursday, declining to name the city official.

Labora, who is a lawyer, and Crespo, who is not, both filed the complaints on their own, without an attorney.

Both men, like Garcia and Martinez, sued their opponents, the county canvassing board and Miami-Dade Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley. Crespo also sued the state canvassing board, which certifies legislative elections.

In his lawsuit, Martinez also lists three county voters as co-plaintiffs.

A previous version of this article mischaracterized the vote totals Crespo obtained in Collier and Broward counties.

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