June 16, 2013

Online ballot fraud marks the ‘e-boletera era of Miami politics’

@MarcACaputo & @PatriciaMazzei

The election scandal dogging Congressman Joe Garcia’s campaign and two state House races makes it clear: Computer techies are supplementing old-school, block-walking ballot-brokers known as boleteras.

Over just a few days last July, at least two groups of schemers used computers traced to Miami, India and the United Kingdom to fraudulently request the ballots of 2,046 Miami-Dade voters.

Garcia said he knew nothing of the plot that recently implicated three former campaign workers, two employed in his congressional office. Investigators, meanwhile, have hit a dead end with a larger fraud involving two state House races.

A third incident cropped up Thursday in Miami’s mayoral race, but the case appears unrelated to last year’s fraud when two groups appeared to act separately from each other. They employed different tactics to target different types of voters, a University of Florida/Miami Herald analysis of election data indicates.

The ultimate goal was the same: get mail-in ballots into the hands of voters, a job that many boleteras once handled on the streets of Miami-Dade.

Now, it’s electronic.

“This is the e- boletera era of Miami politics,” said Daniel Smith, a UF political science professor who analyzed the voting data previously examined by The Miami Herald.

More here

June 13, 2013

Another Miami ballot-fraud scandal: Cops raid home of operative for Commissioner Francis Suarez mayoral campaign


Law enforcement officers investigating absentee ballot fraud raided the home early Thursday of Juan Pablo Baggini, the operations director for Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez’s mayoral campaign.

Suarez justed posted on Facebook that it was a misunderstanding:

"I was informed this morning that law enforcement officials went to the home of a worker from my ECO regarding approximately 20 absentee ballot request forms that were transmitted to the division of elections by electronic means. It should be emphasized that each and every one of the requests were voluntarily and duly signed by a registered voter. I have instructed my campaign to fully cooperate with law enforcement officials regarding this matter and I have all confidence that once the investigation is concluded the facts will reflect that no willful violations of the law occurred."

That might be true, that it wasn't a "willful" violation. But it's still a violation. Florida law says you can't request the absentee ballot of a non-immediate family member.

"The law is clear: You can't do it," said Mark Herron, a Tallahassee-based state election-law lawyer who has represented hundreds of political clients across the political spectrum.

Detectives searched Baggini’s Southwest Miami-Dade residence after the Miami-Dade Elections Department reported a series of online applications for 20 absentee ballots submitted last month. The requests were flagged as suspicious because they were generated from the same computer. The absentee ballots were not mailed out to the voters.

Investigators traced the computer’s internet protocol address to Baggini’s home.

Suarez, who has been on the dais for a Miami City Commission meeting Thursday, told the Miami Herald that he was notified about the raid early in the morning, and is confident that his campaign will be cleared of any wrongdoing.

“We’re cooperating fully with any investigation that any agency wants to do into our campaign,’’ said Suarez, who is challenging Mayor Tomas Regalado in the November election. “We feel confident that once they investigate the circumstances fully, it will be apparent nothing was done to purposely violate the law. They will conclude that everything was done legally.’’

Suarez, whose campaign has been courting young professionals, said he hired Baggini to handle social media and media relations activities.

The campaign had held several events targeting younger voters, and has helped them sign up for absentee ballots.

More here

June 12, 2013

Obama's bipartisan election commission to hold Miami meeting.


The bipartisan election-reform commission established by President Obama will meet for a day in Miami -- the focal point for the state's most-recent election meltdown.

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration is scheduled to meet all day Friday, June 28 at the University of Miami to take testimony and public comments from local, county and state election officials and citizens, a notice published Wednesday in the Federal Register said.

"The [commission] was established to identify best practices and make recommendations to the President on the efficient administration of elections in order to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots without undue delay," the notice said, "and to improve the experience of voters facing other obstacles in casting their ballots."

 Downtown Miami is a fitting site to discuss election problems. Some voters waited between five and eight hours to cast ballots, due partly to an unusually long ballot, a shortened early voting period and ill-prepared precincts (more background here).

But problems extended throughout Miami-Dade and into other large urban counties.

The face of the voting troubles: Desiline Victor, a North Miami woman who waited hours to vote despite her age of 102. She was featured in Obama's State of the Union Speech, though a bill to be named in her honor died in the state Legislature.

Though the president has pushed for more transparent elections and more public input, not everyone can just show up at the meeting at month's end. According to the Federal Register, citizens wishing to attend have to register by submitting their full name, organization and email address.

Those wishing to attend the meeting are encouraged to contact the commission (more information here) to ensure the meeting is held in a place that can accommodate all attendees.

May 03, 2013

Marco Rubio gets Florida Legislature to eliminate early primary in 2016

@MarcACaputo and @MikeVanSickler

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio persuaded state lawmakers to make a last-minute change eliminating Florida’s early presidential primary – a race in which the Republican could be on the ballot.

Rubio’s main concern was shared by lawmakers and operatives from both parties: Ensuring that Florida’s 2016 primary vote counts. The measure, barely discussed, was tucked in an election-reform bill that passed the Legislature by wide margins Friday.

Right now, the Sunshine State’s early primary violates Democratic and Republican national party rules, which penalizes the state by severely devaluing the vote of its delegation to nominate each party’s presidential candidate.

Florida Republicans, for instance, would only have 12 delegates instead of 99 if the state kept its early primary in January or early February.

“We would go from being the third-largest delegation to being the smallest,” said Todd Reid, state director for Rubio.

Asked about Rubio’s potential bid for president in 2016, Reid said the changes had nothing to do with the senator’s political future and noted that Democrats support the changes as much, if not more, than Republicans.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio gets Florida Legislature to eliminate early primary in 2016" »

May 02, 2013

Miami-Dade's election chief might be only one targeted in future for "non-compliance."


***Update: Full story is here

The bipartisan election bill passed the Florida House on the first day of the legislative session has yet to pass the Florida Legislature on the last day -- in great part due to a dispute over a plan to punish some election supervisors deemed "non-compliant."

The Senate inserted the language at the urging of Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a critic of the way Miami-Dade election supervisor Penelope Townsley handled her job last fall.

The provision allows a Secretary of State to impose penalties, including a partial loss of pay, for failing to follow election rules or competently manage an election. After three years of being deemed "noncompliant" an election supervisor can be recommended for removal from office by the governor.

But the House, and the state's election supervisors, don't like the language in part because the state can punish incompetent election supervisors now and nearly all election supervisors are elected and accountable to the voters.

So the House plans to strip out the measure Friday. But they might give the Senate a compromise proposal that would punish appointed election supervisors. There's only one of the 67 in the state: Townsley.

"We think it’s a little bit punitive. It’s one thing if you’re an appointed election supervisor. I think you may see some language in the House that reflects that," said House Speaker Will Weatherford.

"But as far as an elected supervisor and having the ability to punish them from the Secretary of State’s Office, I don’t think the Florida House likes that position," he said. "I would imagine that would probably come out of the bill."

Meantime, Diaz de la Portilla said he's working on proposing a Miami-Dade county charter change to make the post an elected position.

Weatherford's feeling about the language is shared by Senate President Don Gaetz. He predicted the bill would probably pass. So did Weatherford.

"On the very first day of session, we passed out a bipartisan elections bill," Weatherford said. "Our hope is that on the last day of session, we are able to pass out a bipartisan elections bill."

April 25, 2013

Miami-Dade prosecutor to Latvala: I'm 'disappointed' election bill's fraud-fighting was weakened


A letter from Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle to Sen. Jack Latvala:

I know that you have great concern that our elections be free of any cloud of voter fraud. All of us in Miami-Dade County feel that the integrity of our election process is of paramount importance. The potential of absentee ballot fraud effecting an election has brought together the citizens of this community, as signified by the 23 recommendations of the Miami-Dade Grand Jury, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners (BCC) and our Supervisor of Elections. The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners passed resolution R-118-13 urging the Florida Legislature to enact the recommendations of the Grand Jury report in an effort to combat absentee ballot fraud. Reinstating the previous statutory requirement that a witness signature appear on each absentee ballot will provide a means of ensuring that every absentee ballot cast is an honest vote.

Enacting the statutory changes recommended by the Grand Jury, the Miami-Dade BCC and the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections will allow your community and all of Florida to improve the public’s perception of how our elections are conducted. I am disappointed to note that the current version of the elections reform bill no longer contains a provision requiring a witness for an absentee voter’s signature. I strongly urge you to amend the bill to reinstate this provision to s. 101.65, Florida Statutes. Your vote for the addition of a witness signature to each absentee ballot will throw a chill into the hearts of those manipulators who feel that they, not the people, should decide who will sit in public office.

Please, join me and our entire Board of County Commissioners and our Supervisor of Elections in voting for clean local elections.

April 16, 2013

Florida Senate Republicans crack down on foreign-language interpreters for voting


Desiline Victor, the 102-year-old North Miami voter who became a symbol of Florida’s elections woes, could again find it tough to cast a ballot now that the Republican-controlled state Senate voted Tuesday to keep a crack down on foreign-language interpreters at the polls.

The Senate maintained the last-minute measure on what appeared to be a party-line voice vote while debating a bill designed to reverse the effects of an election law that helped create long lines and suppress the vote in 2012.

On Election Day at Victor’s polling station, there weren’t enough interpreters for the Creole-speaking native of Haiti and hundreds like her. Turnout was heavy. And lines lasted for hours — partly due to a slew of proposed state Constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature.

“My mom is a victim of this problem, if they’re going to change something it should be to make voting easier. Just make it easy,” said Victor’s godson, Mathieu Pierre-Louis, whom she raised as her own child.

Continue reading "Florida Senate Republicans crack down on foreign-language interpreters for voting" »

March 05, 2013

Awake the State rally a sign of frustrated voters

While House representatives were voting on the Florida Election Code late Tuesday afternoon, a crowd of protestors rallied on the steps outside the old Capital building blasting a flawed 2012 election, with songs, signs and plenty of speeches.

The Tallahassee event was part of Awake the State -- Free the Vote grassroots rallies in 23 Florida communities, with appearances by four Democratic senators: Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens and Dwight Bullard of Miami. Other speakers included Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho, students and representatives of the Dream Defenders, Florida NOW, the AFL-CIO and other groups.

  "The point is to send a clear message to the Legislature that we want to see meaningful election reform during the legislative session," said Damien Filer, of Progress Florida, organizers of Awake the State. 

Continue reading "Awake the State rally a sign of frustrated voters" »

February 21, 2013

102 y/o Desiline Victor to get voting-rights bill naming honors

From an Advancement Project press release:

As an answer to fixing Florida’s flawed election system, State Senator Oscar Braynon, along with civil rights organizations Florida New Majority and Advancement Project, are joining North Miami resident Desiline Victor to introduce a bill that will protect and improve the right to vote in Florida.

Sen. Braynon’s SB 888 – Desiline’s Free and Fair Democracy Act – helps modernize the state’s voting system and enshrines the fundamental right to vote into state law.

The event is at the North Miami Public Library, where Ms. Victor, age 102, was forced to stand in line for hours before being able to cast her ballot. Her story became national news when Advancement Project brought her to the attention of the White House, after the organization discovered her during her struggle to vote. President Barack Obama recounted her voting experience during the recent State of the Union address, as Ms. Victor received a standing ovation from lawmakers while sitting in First Lady Michelle Obama’s box.

Continue reading "102 y/o Desiline Victor to get voting-rights bill naming honors" »

February 18, 2013

As insurance premiums rise, Citizens execs get big pay hikes

When the president of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. learned that his chief financial officer had used corporate funds to finance a luxurious weekend at a $633-a-night resort in Bermuda, he initially described the expenses as “absolutely appropriate.”

But President Barry Gilway changed his tune after a Herald/Times story and a subsequent inspector general report documented evidence that executives regularly ran up huge expenses on the company credit card, traveling and dining at four-star locations across the globe.

“As guardians of public funds, we must hold ourselves to a more rigorous standard,” he said.

It was a full-throated mea culpa, following sharp rebukes from Gov. Rick Scott, state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and top lawmakers. But behind the scenes, Gilway was quietly handing out huge salary raises for the well-traveled CFO, Sharon Binnun, and several other executives who run the state-backed company.

Read more here