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Absentee-ballot race roils Miami-Dade state attorney contest

The Miami-Dade mayoral race is not the only contest on the Aug. 14 ballot embroiled in an investigation over potential absentee-ballot fraud.

Rod Vereen, the criminal defense attorney challenging longtime State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle in the Democratic primary, called on Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday to appoint a special prosecutor from outside the county to handle the investigation.

Vereen and other critics have suggested Fernández Rundle has a conflict of interest in the case because she shares a campaign consultant, Al Lorenzo, with Mayor Carlos Gimenez. One of the women detained and questioned in the fraud case -- Daisy Cabrera, found with more than a dozen absentee ballots -- has been photographed at Gimenez campaign events, and a private eye spotted her entering the building that houses Gimenez's Hialeah campaign office. Gimenez has strongly denied any connection to Cabrera.

For her part, Fernández Rundle's office issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying reports linking the investigation to Lorenzo, the campaign consultant, "appear to be based solely on unsubstantiated rumor."

"I have spoken with the Major in charge of the Public Corruption Bureau of the Miami-Dade Police Department and he has confirmed that there is no truth to the rumor whatsoever," her statement says. "Nonetheless, in an abundance of caution, I have spoken to the Governor's General Counsel's Office and informed them that, should the investigation uncover any actions that involve persons assisting in my campaign, I will do as always and immediately request an Executive Assignment of that piece of the investigation."

Says Vereen's letter to the governor: "The citizens of Miami Dade are beginning to question the sanctity of the August Primary Election. Our community does not want Katherine Fernández Rundle investigating potential election crims that her own political consultants may have participated in two weeks before a 'hotly contested' race for her own office and/or that she may potentially benefit from."

Gimenez said at a candidate forum Tuesday that he agrees with law enforcement's strategy to seek charges stronger than a misdemeanor against Cabrera to set an example for other absentee-ballot brokers.

Gimenez's chief rival, County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez, said at the forum that state lawmakers should consider exempting lists of absentee-ballot requests -- made available to political campaigns -- from the public record so brokers no longer visit voters' homes asking about their ballots. Gimenez said he liked the idea, but cautioned that brokers would probably still target seniors, who tend to vote by mail, particularly at senior centers and assisted-living facilities.

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