By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — Chalk up a win for computers.
Election officials say they have spoiled a scheme by computer hackers to fraudulently request thousands of absentee ballots for unwitting voters.
According to a story by The Miami Herald, the absentee ballots were ordered to be sent out to people who hadn’t actually requested them. The apparent intent was to bombard the absentee voters with phone calls, fliers and home visits in an attempt to sway their decision in favor of their candidate.
“Within (two and a half weeks), 2,552 online requests arrived from voters who had not applied for absentee ballots,” the newspaper reported. “They streamed in much too quickly for real people to be filling them out. They originated from only a handful of Internet Protocol addresses. And they were not random.”
Fortunately, the election department´s software smelled a rat, flagged the orders and the ballots were not sent out.
“The thwarted attempt targeted voters in three districts: Democrats in Congressional District 26, where four candidates — including a suspected ringer criminally charged Friday with federal elections violations — were vying to take on vulnerable Republican Rep. David Rivera; and Republicans in Florida House Districts 103 and 112, two competitive seats,” The Miami Herald reported.
Carolina López of the Miami-Dade County Election Department told Florida Watchdog that state law permits certain individuals, such as candidates appearing on the ballot, political supporters, committees and consults, to have access to the list of voters requesting absentee ballots.
“We monitor who we send out the information to so that we are in compliance with all the requirements of the law,” López said.
However it isn´t too difficult to apply for an absentee ballot since all it requires is “they come to the office, we check to verify they are who they say and then we proceed with the order,” she added.
The question is who is behind the attacks?
“The Miami-Dade Office of the State Attorney couldn’t find the hacker because most of his or her actions were masked by foreign IP addresses,” The Herald reported. “But at least some of the ballot requests originated in Miami and could have been further traced. “
When asked about the status of the investigation, the prosecutor’s office told Florida Watchdog, “We are reviewing the issue of the absentee ballots so it’s not appropriate for us to comment at this time.”
Duane E. Pike, president of Florida Independent Voting.Org, a political action committee, said he was not surprised by the news of the cyber attack.
“It’s very easy to hack the security of a computer system,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a government computer or a cyber war.”
Pike, a former aeronautical engineer and space industry retiree, said “any information found online can easily be accessible to hackers.”
“I’m not sure who benefits from this kind of thing, but it bothers me because I mail in my absentee ballot, as did my wife and I encourage people to do the same.”
Absentee ballot fraud is nothing new in Florida.
In August, a ‘ballot broker’ scandal was blown wide open. It started when private detective Joe Carrillo videotaped a woman named Daisy Cabrera while she was collecting absentee ballots from people living in a low-income building in Hialeah. In Miami-Dade, having in possession of more than two absentee ballots a third degree felony.
Soon after, it was discovered that Cabrera wasn’t acting alone. Following her trail lead investigators to the door of the campaign office of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who was seeking re-election in the primary, and State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
Their campaign adviser, Al Lorenzo, took the fall and was fired from both campaigns. The case was later transferred to the Broward County prosecutor´s office to avoid a possible conflict of interest.
Several people were questioned by prosecutors about the incident, but only Sergio Robaina still faces two felony charges for allegedly manipulating votes through absentee ballots. Robaina, known as ‘the uncle’ of former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, is still being prosecuted for his alleged part in the voter fraud.
The scandal tainted the election to such a degree that several of the candidates filed lawsuits, all of which were later dismissed or withdrawn. Among them were former Rep. John Patrick Julien, Commissioner Joe Martinez, congressional candidate Paul Crespo and former property appraiser Pedro Garcia.
“My general feeling about the future is that there are many forms of identification like visual or voice scanners, and that eventually everything will be done online,” Pike said.
He said the combination of all these elements along with rapidly developing technology will “lead to a legitimate identification and help a lot.”
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org.