By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI— Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida told Florida Watchdog that they recognize that absentee voter fraud has ensnared many elections in the state.
“We want everybody who has been involved in helping pass these voter suppression laws, that have made it so difficult for people to register to vote, to vote and to have their vote counted,” said Ronald Bilbao, spokesman for the ACLU of Florida.
“If legislators really want to attack voter fraud, they have to go after absentee ballots, which we know has fraud in Miami-Dade County and across the state,” admitted Bilbao at the launch of the Let Me Vote campaign at Miami-Dade College by the state ACLU.
The Florida Department of State recently decided to halt the state’s purging of the voter rolls, despite discovering nearly 200,000 ineligible voters.
It began in February, after an investigation by CBS2 revealed that several noncitizens were found on the voter rolls in Lee and Collier counties, and had voted in the past election.
As CBS reported, no one knows the extent of the problem, because the county election supervisors have no way to track noncitizens.
The Florida Department of State, in response, decided to conduct its own investigation in April, coming up with a list of nearly 182,000 people who were suspected as potentially ineligible voters.
Letters were sent to 2,700 of those voters to verify their citizenship, asking them to submit proof of citizenship within 30 days or have their name removed from the voter rolls.
Civil rights groups like the ACLU and some Democratic lawmakers have said the rule affected mainly minority voters.
“The problem we have here is not fraud, but voter suppression,” said ACLU spokeswoman Carolina González, who has been involved in the lawsuits to halt the voter roll cleanups.
“These changes are not made to facilitate voting but to make it more difficult,” she told Florida Watchdog.
Bilbao added, “There are fewer cases of fraud in Florida than shark attacks. We know that what they really want is to keep certain people away from the polls.”
Where is the fraud?
An investigation by the Orlando Sentinel reveals that 178 cases of alleged electoral fraud have been reported to the Florida State Police since 2000.
One investigation changed the outcome of the mayoral race in Miami. Runner-up Joe Carollo eventually won in 1998 after an investigation revealed, according to election officials.
Almost a decade and a half later, similar cases of absentee voter fraud still are being reported.
In August, Florida Watchdog reported the case of state Rep. John Patrick Julien, D-Miami, who lost the primary election against state Rep. Barbara Watson by just 13 votes.
Julien told Florida Watchdog in August that he is certain that “fraudsters” have taken over absentee voting in Miami-Dade County in preparation for the November elections, and he calls for a statewide investigation into the matter.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez, who recently challenged incumbent Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez, refused to concede the election and told reporters the election was “stolen.”
Giménez received more than 80,000 absentee ballots by Election Day and had been suspected of hiring two ballot collectors who were later found in possession of multiple absentee ballots in the city of Hileah, sparking a countywide investigation into absentee voter fraud.
Interview with Ronald Bilbao and Carolina González (Spanish) of the ACLU:
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org.
Florida Bureau Chief Yaël Ossowski translated this article.
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