To make the most of its booth at a Cinco de Mayo festival on Mary Brickell Village, Miami mayoral candidate Francis Suarez’s campaign paid two women who worked for an event promoter to sign up voters for absentee ballots.
Few questions were asked. Many of the voters were tipsy, according to Miami-Dade prosecutors. So were the two women. One drank shots of alcohol with partygoers in exchange for their signing forms authorizing the campaign to request ballots on their behalf.
Obtaining those permissions was legal. How the campaign used them was not.
Instead of mailing the forms to the county Elections Department, Juan Pablo Baggini, Suarez’s operations manager, submitted the requests online on May 29. Each time, he had to swear or affirm that he was the voter or an immediate family member, as required by Florida elections law.
On Friday, Baggini and campaign manager Esteban “Steve” Suarez, whom the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office contends directed Baggini, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of attempting to submit an absentee ballot request of behalf of voters. They agreed to serve up to a year of probation for unlawfully submitting 20 of the ballot requests online.
The charges appear to be a reflection of inexperienced and unsophisticated campaign workers who did not realize what they were doing was wrong. A source close to the investigation repeatedly referred to the way things played out as a “comedy of errors.”