South Florida district is rife with absentee ballot fraud

TALLAHASSEE – For those who remain skeptical that election fraud happens in Florida: take a look at the 26th congressional district.

An ongoing investigation conducted by elections officials, law enforcement officers and the Miami Herald has revealed 2,552 absentee ballots were fraudulently requested during the lead up to last year’s August primary elections.

joe-garcia-for-congress
REP. JOE GARCIA: The chief of staff for the Florida congressman recently resigned after admitting to a fraudulent absentee ballot scheme.

The phony absentee requests were submitted online and without the knowledge of the targeted ballot recipients.

Hundreds of the requests emanated from Internet Protocol addresses, or IP addresses, in the Miami area, and selectively targeted Democratic voters in the newly drawn South Florida congressional district.

Those fake requests are now tied to the campaign of Rep. Joe Garcia.

Garcia won both the Democratic congressional primary and general election, and said in a weekend press conference that he was entirely unaware of the fraud but maintained it “was a well-intentioned attempt to maximize voter turnout.”

The Democratic primary in question was also marred by reports that former incumbent congressman David Rivera, a Republican, was financing aspects of a Democratic campaign of one of Garcia’s primary opponents.

A federal investigation into the matter has since led to an indictment of Justin Lamar Sternad, the supposed “ringer” candidate, though no charges have been levied against Rivera.

The other bogus online absentee requests from Miami targeted Republican voters in two state House districts. Those phony requests stemmed from foreign IP addresses with fake email contact information, making them nearly impossible to trace.

According to investigators and the Miami Herald, there is no way to substantiate whether the two schemes are linked.

Regardless, the Garcia and state House absentee ballot frauds were flagged by elections officials and ultimately failed, but only because they were poorly executed, writes Bev Harris of Black Box Voting, an elections watchdog.

joe-garcia2
DAMAGE CONTROL: Garcia denies any involvement in the fraudulent online absentee ballot requests, but says the scheme was “well-intentioned.”

“The Miami absentee hack went wrong, and was thwarted when someone tried to do the ballot request stuffing via the (official voter) Web site. Besides triggering IP flags, the system automatically sent an email to the real persons whose identities had been hijacked for bogus requests,” wrote Harris.

“Now, if you have a few thousand strategically targeted extra ballots that you know are bogus, and you reroute the database to an off-the-public-record consultant during the print and mail phase, you can deliver those ballots anywhere you want. They can all be sent to the same address; no one would know,” added Harris.

Carolina López of the Miami-Dade County Election Department told Florida Watchdog’s Marianela Toledo in February that state law permits certain individuals, such as candidates appearing on the ballot, political supporters, committees and consultants, to have access to the list of voters requesting absentee ballots.

The targeted voters in the online scheme were selected because they were registered but infrequent voters. Filling out the request form and sending the ballots directly to them or manipulating their ballots in another capacity are both felonies and were the apparent goals of the plot.

Absentee ballot voting, or vote by mail, was the focus of a grand jury report led by Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle following the 2012 elections.

“Our concern about the voting process and the voting results in our community compelled us to select the absentee ballot voting process as our investigative topic,” the report states.

Joe Garcia-julien
JOHN PATRICK JULIEN: The former state representative attributes absentee ballot fraud to his 13 vote defeat.

The report highlighted the rise of absentee ballot voting in Miami-Dade County; 27 percent of the total 885,067 votes last November, as opposed to 7 percent in 2000.

In one case, a United States Postal employee stumbled over 150 absentee ballots in a single mailbox; it is illegal for an individual to possess more than two. The ballots were later traced to a County Commissioners Aide.

Boloteros, or activists hired by campaigns to collect absentee votes from voters in elderly care homes and community centers, were mentioned in the report as well.

For state Rep. John Patrick Julien, a Democrat from North Miami, allegations of fraud and voter intimidation are real.

After losing his reelection bid by just 13 votes, Julien told Florida Watchdog, “Everyone is more interested in winning than doing it the right and just way.”

“Anyone that wants to run has to submit to the criminal element in order to win,” said Julien. “Everyone participates in it and that’s wrong.”

Published with permission from watchdog.org

Contact William Patrick at [email protected]

Watchdog

Watchdog.org is a collection of independent journalists covering state-specific and local government activity.

Comments

Latest Articles