By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI— At least two candidates who lost primary elections Aug. 14 in Miami-Dade County are asking for an investigation into fraudulent absentee ballots, pointing to the ongoing investigation of vote fraud in the mayoral race as indicative of a larger trend.
Paul Crespo, Republican candidate for the Florida House of Representatives in District 105, sent a formal letter to the State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle on Aug. 18, requesting a full and immediate investigation into absentee ballot irregularities, specifically focusing on the city of Sweetwater.
Crespo, a former Marine captain, received 38.5 percent, the equivalent of 1,427 votes, and his opponent, state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, of District 106, ultimately received 61.5, or 2,278 votes.
“This is a runaway process. Absentee ballots decide the election,” Crespo told Florida Watchdog.
According to the Miami-Dade Elections Department, 1,348 absentee ballots were submitted in support of Trujillo, compared to 677 for Crespo.
“I am calling for an investigation because there is a pattern of abuse. The ballot collectors will visit senior centers — many of them sick and who don’t understand the situation — and get them absentee ballots,” said Crespo.
He added that he wanted to win or lose a fair election, and then move on, but the disproportionate numbers of absentee ballots compared to actual votes cast were enough reason to be skeptical.
“There must be a change; we cannot go on like this. Candidates like me are not going to want to continue participating in the elections when there is a pattern of electoral fraud, just like the 1997 election,” said Cresp, referring to the Miami mayoral race result that was reversed in the face of significant absentee ballot fraud.
The newly drawn district 105 includes part of Collier, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Crespo sent letters to the state attorney offices in Broward and Collier counties, as well as Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey, John Boynton, director of administration at the Department of State and Wifredo Ferrer, the U.S attorney for the Southern District.
According to Crespo’s letter, “irregular patterns” of absentee ballots are an indication that fraud may have occurred.
For now, Trujillo, the victor, will face Democrat Raul René Robayna in the November general election.
But Crespo is not the only candidate protesting election results because of unusually high numbers of absentee ballots.
Garcia received 48.8 percent of the votes versus 51.20 for Lopez Cantera.
“The issue of absentee ballots has created a critical situation in Miami-Dade County. In my case, I won the majority of the votes cast on Aug. 14 but lost by absentee ballots,” Garcia told Florida Watchdog.
According to the Elections Department, 36,116 absentee votes went to Garcia, while his opponent received 43,903.
“We are also seeing that the race between Carlos Gimenez and Joe Martinez (for Miami-Dade mayor) only had a difference of 31,000 absentee ballots,” said Garcia. “That is ridiculous and cannot be right.”
Garcia said he requested a review of the election, not only for himself but also for others, adding that he would seek a solution wherein the “actual voters would decide an election and not just those with access to absentee ballots.”
Complaints can be filed to the Elections Board up to 10 days after the election.
“In my case, there was a difference in the ballots located between Hialeah and African-American neighborhoods, which is how my opponent made the difference to win,” Garcia said.
“We consider it very important that the federal government is involved in this investigation so they know what is going on in Miami. This is an issue that happens sometimes but now is the time to do something and stop it.”
Miami-Dade County Commissioner and mayoral candidate Joe Martinez, who trailed closely in the race that first sparked an investigation into absentee ballot fraud, has still refused to officially concede the race to Giménez, who was declared the victor by the Elections Board on Aug. 14.
He did not return our call seeking comment.
Spanish-language interviews with Pedro Garcia and Paul Crespo:
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org and on Twitter @mtoledoreporter