By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI— In Miami-Dade County, 144,967 citizens have received absentee ballots in order to exercise their right to vote in party primary elections on Aug. 14.
Increasingly, this is a trend that many Floridians are adopting. During the 2010 midterm election, 134,598 voters cast absentee ballots.
But this method of voting by mail is increasingly surrounded by suspicions of fraud and abuse that have plauged voter integrity in South Florida in the past.
“They are creating a series of phenomena that are totally anti-American with regard to the handling of absentee voting,” Hector Caraballo, president of Miami-Dade Cuban American Democratic Club, told Florida Watchdog.
“Right now there are a number of politicians and persons related to them who have created a structure that handles absentee voting assistance centers for the elderly in various low-rent institutions,” said the Democratic leader.
Caraballo said the senior age of many voters allows them to be frightened and manipulated into voting for a specific candidate.
“Now the absentee ballot is becoming an important tool,” said Caraballo.
“Some people have 500, 1,000, and 3,000 absentee ballots which are cast for them in a primary election. Especially where the percentage of voting in the county is so infinitely low, those absentee ballots can be manipulated to make any selected politician gain or lose.”
Investigative journalist Nelson Horta, who has reported on several cases of manipulated absentee ballot in the past few years, agrees.
“In theory,(it is) simplifying the absentee voting process to people who cannot go to vote. But traditionally, it is known by people who are dedicated to finding the absentee ballot,” Horta told Florida Watchdog.
“The biggest fraud, mostly, is in the manipulation,” said Horta. “Those who run the campaigns are those that are responsible for hiring these people to get their absentee ballots. All campaigns benefit from these characters.”
In 1998, Republican Joe Carollo won the race for mayor of Miami after it was determined that absentee ballot fraud gave his opponent, Xavier Suarez, the initial win in the run-off.
He served as mayor from 1998-2001.
Carollo now is the head of the re-election campaign for Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who faces stiff competetion from Joe Martinez, a Miami-Dade County Commissioner.
Interestingly enough, Martinez has hired Sasha Tirador to run his campaign, widley known as the “Absentee Ballot Queen” for her success in rounding up citizens to vote by absentee ballots.
Carollo and Tirador did not return calls to Florida Watchdog.
According to the Department of Elections, Miami-Dade County has more than 1.2 million registered voters who will be voting this the upcoming primary and general elections.
“This structure (of absentee ballot fraud is) increasingly evident. It is destroying the electoral system in the county, and it is time we begin to denounce and seek ways to prevent further damage to the democratic system here in Miami-Dade,” said Caraballo.
“The problem is that the laws are extremely demanding. Any attempt to come to check the facts is very difficult. Demonstrating the power handling is not easy, but I’m sure there’s a way to change the regulations to prevent this,” he said.
“It’s the only way that the democratic system in our county can exist and does not become an example of corruption throughout the country,” the Cuban activist said.
Watch the Spanish-language interview with Hector Caraballo: