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Miami-Dade canvassing board examines ballots gathered by boleteros

Miami-Dade’s elections canvassing board on Tuesday examined nearly 200 absentee ballots collected by so-called ballot brokers in Hialeah and determined that nearly all of the ballots should count as valid votes.

The ballots had been set aside for Miami-Dade police detectives who are investigating suspected ballot fraud among boleteros, or ballot brokers, in Hialeah. Two suspected boleteros have been arrested on vote fraud charges in the past two weeks.

The canvassing board did not get to examine six absentee ballots that were seized by investigators on Friday as evidence in the vote-fraud probe. Those six ballots were not counted in Tuesday’s election results.

The three-person canvassing board reviewed 195 ballots that police believe were collected by ballot brokers to determine whether the signatures on the ballots matched the voter signatures on file with the county’s Elections Department. Hunched shoulder to shoulder over the ballots, the board members found 191 of the ballots appeared legitimate, while rejecting four ballots.

“Somebody else wrote that,” said Miami-Dade County Court Judge Shelley Kravitz, the chairwoman of the canvassing board, while examining the signature on one ballot. “I would reject.”

“It’s not even the right initials,” County Judge Andrew Hague, another canvassing board member, said while reviewing another rejected ballot.

The elections department will retain possession of the four rejected ballots.

Two of the questionable ballots rejected by the canvassing board were among 12 ballots found on suspected ballot broker Deisy Cabrera when police first questioned her on July 25, after Cabrera visited five Hialeah assisted-living facilities to collect ballots.

Cabrera has been charged with a felony count of fraudulently obtaining an absentee ballot from Zulema Gomez, an unresponsive 81-year-old woman suffering from a brain tumor in a Miami Springs nursing home. Gomez’s ballot included a note purporting to be from Gomez’s sister, but her sister denied filling out the ballot.

Gomez’s ballot was among the six ballots seized by detectives under a search warrant on Friday. Police also seized the ballot of 83-year-old Lilia Sotolongo, who told The Miami Herald last week that Cabrera helped fill out her ballot because Sotolongo has poor eyesight from glaucoma and cataracts.

“She doesn’t tell me who to vote for,” Sotolongo said. “I know who I am voting for.”

Police also seized the absentee ballots of Gustavo Martinez and his mother, Ocilia Hernandez. Their ballots were collected by another suspected boletero, Sergio “El Tio” Robaina, who was arrested last week on charges that he filled out those ballots with his own choices.

Police said Robaina, uncle to former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, and other suspected boleteros delivered 164 ballots to the Hialeah district office of Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, a former Hialeah councilman. A Bovo aide then delivered the ballots to a post office near Miami International Airport, where a postal inspector noticed the ballots and alerted police. Bovo has said he had no knowledge of absentee-ballot collections going on at his district office.

Miami Herald staff writer Daniel Chang contributed to this report.

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