By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI— In the battle to become Miami-Dade’s property appraiser, the newly declared victor is shrugging aside concerns that absentee ballot fraud might have had something to do with his narrow victory.
“Losing an election is very difficult. I’ve lost an election myself and it was very difficult,” said state Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, majority leader of the state Legislature. “But I tried to find a way to survive the loss. In this election, the voters voted and I won.”
In the Aug. 14 election, he defeated incumbent property appraiser Pedro Garcia, who subsequently filed a complaint with the Elections Department concerning absentee ballot fraud.
“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.
“There was no fraud on my part. Before this election, I was the only one who said that the vote had to be protected. I rejected the service of the ballot collectors,” Lopez-Cantera told Florida Watchdog.
Lopez-Cantera said accused ballot collector Daisy Cabrera, who was charged with voter fraud in the city of Hialeah, approached him to offer to collect absentee votes.
“Now that Garcia has lost, he has problems with absentee ballots. But I was the only one who criticized this before the election,” he said.
According to the Elections Department of Miami-Dade, 36,116 absentee ballots were cast in favor of Garcia; 43,903 for Lopez Cantera.
“If you look at elections since 2006, the number of people voting by mail has grown, because it’s easier. And I see those numbers supporting the strategy of announcing ads much earlier,” he said.
The property appraiser-elect said his campaign began days before absentee ballots were mailed to voters, while Garcia began his closer to Election Day, after many people had already voted.
“If you look at the campaign reports, the only person to pay for consulting services that historically are those involved in the rotation to help with absentee ballots was Mr. Garcia,” he added. “It’s ironic that he’s criticizing me and this campaign because it didn’t go as he wanted.”
Lopez Cantera said an official review of about 80,000 absentee ballots would take years.
“We reviewed the 200 ballots of people who have been arrested and only four of them were removed (because of felonies). From the point of view of my campaign, there was no fraud because we did not hire companies that engage in this type of work,” he said.
“If there is no evidence of fraud, then this just seems like someone who is unhappy because he lost,” he said.
Frank Rubino, constitutional law attorney in Miami, told Florida Watchdog the state attorney’s office can pursue claims of fraud if ballot collectors received blank absentee ballots and filled them in, or if ballot collectors directly influenced people to vote for a particular candidate.
“Either one is a crime, as well as having more than two absentee ballots on hand,” he said, alluding to the ballot collectors who were found in the possession of more than 20 ballots in the city of Hialeah.
“As far as these recent primaries, I don’t think many absentee ballots are going to be questioned. I don’t’ think the number of absentee ballots would really change anything.”
State Rep. John Patrick Julien, of North Miami Beach’s District 104, has also come forward claiming absentee electoral fraud. Julien lost the race for District 107 against fellow incumbent Rep. Barbara Watson, of District 103, by just 13 votes.
Julien appeared at the office of the state attorney in Miami-Dade on Aug. 20, presenting evidence of a third ballot collector who submitted hundreds of absentee ballots on Election Day, according to the Miami Herald.
Watson received 1,111 absentee votes and Julien had 1,037.
Thursday, Florida Watchdog will present a full interview with Rep. John Patrick Julien.
Twenty-eight states allow absentee votes by mail ballot for any reason, while all other states require an excuse.
In the most recent primary election, 37 percent of the voters in Miami-Dade County used absentee ballots.
Email Toledo at email@example.com
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