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Voter-fraud watch: Inside Miami-Dade's shady world of ballot-brokering 'boleteros'

For an elderly political junky who needs money on the side, it’s the perfect job with an exotic-sounding name: Boletero

It literally means “balloteer,” but the post carries the Spanish nickname in deference to the dozens — if not scores — of paid small-time operatives who find ways to turn out or collect absentee mail-in votes in Miami-Dade.

It’s a shady world, as the case of 56-year-old Deisy Cabrera in Hialeah shows.

Cabrera was charged Wednesday with a state felony for allegedly forging an elderly woman’s signature on an absentee ballot, and with two counts of violating a Miami-Dade County ordinance banning the possession of more than two filled-out absentee ballots.

“The ‘boleteros’ hover on the edge of the letter and spirit of the law,” said Christian Ulvert, a top state Democratic campaign consultant who has run races in Little Havana and Miami Beach.

“These boleteros in Miami Dade have become like some political consultants,” Ulvert added. “You don’t want them working for you. But you don’t want them working against you. So some candidates figure you just have to pay them.”

It’s a cottage industry in a county where nearly 50,000 people have already returned their mail-in ballots, out of 150,000 requests. All that for an Aug. 14 primary that consists of relatively small races and the contest for Miami-Dade mayor.

The exact number of boleteros is unclear. Consultants estimate there are as many as 100 in the county.

Many act as free agents for multiple campaigns, earning as much as $5,000 for about a month’s worth of work, consultants say. An individual campaign can pay as much as $1,000.

Cabrera offered her services to some campaigns that included hiring teams of volunteers and phone-banking services at a cost of $3,000.

Often, boleteros are elderly and have years of experience working as campaign volunteers and block-walkers. Over time, they develop relationships with senior citizens and voters in their communities, assisted-living facilities and apartment complexes.

Top boleteros — who tend to be Republican — have access to about 200 voters and as few as 30.

The more voters they say they represent, the more money they can earn from each campaign they work for — especially this year, when the Aug. 14 ballot in cities like Hialeah has as many as two-dozen candidates and questions. Boleteros can theoretically cash in on every race.

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