Doug Mills, AP/NYT
Source of real voter fraud is ignored
- Article by: JOHN ROMANO
- Tampa Bay Times
- September 28, 2012 - 12:04 PM
Let's talk about voter fraud.
You have to admit, it's been a pretty popular topic around here lately. Florida has been committed to rooting out fraud from under every rock, felon and immigrant.
Just making sure that our state has fair elections, is the way Gov. Rick Scott put it. And on Wednesday the state identified a couple hundred people who may or may not be illegally registered to vote.
The state is also messing around with third-party voter registration, which no one seems to think is a source of voter fraud. And the state has insisted on tweaking early voting days, which has absolutely nothing to do with fraud.
On the other hand, the state has completely ignored absentee ballots.
Which is where fraud actually seems to exist.
In case you missed it, there were some worrisome developments involving absentee ballots in South Florida just last month. Two people were arrested and charged with illegally collecting and/or falsifying absentee ballots in the primary election.
A couple of judicial candidates also told the Miami Herald they were approached by brokers offering to deliver absentee ballots in their favor if the candidates paid thousands of dollars for the service. This type of broker is commonly known as a boletero.
This is nothing new in South Florida where election results have been tossed out and boleteros have been accused of stuffing ballot boxes for the past 20 years.
There have also been investigations, and in some cases arrests, for absentee ballot frauds in West Virginia, Arkansas, Massachusetts and Madison, Fla., in recent elections.
On the other hand, in-person voter fraud is exceedingly rare. And that makes perfect sense when you think about it.
You see, voting illegally at a precinct carries a much higher risk and offers little reward because it's one vote at a time. Whereas hijacking absentee ballots offers extra layers of protection, and can conceivably involve hundreds of votes at a time.
For instance, a candidate's broker can simply buy ballots from voters, as was the case in Arkansas. Or absentee ballots can be routed to incorrect addresses. Or brokers can collect ballots door to door and discard those that do not vote a particular way. Or a broker can offer to help someone fill out their ballot and guide it in a certain direction.
Scary, right? Something lawmakers may actually want to look at, right? Yet politicians rarely talk about absentee fraud, and instead are obsessed with the statistically insignificant issue of in-person voter fraud.
"To me, this says one of two things," said Larry Norden, deputy director for the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.
"Either they're not thinking very coherently about what they're doing, or what they're really concerned about is not actually fraud."
So what might they actually be concerned about?
Oh, perhaps the idea that specific demographics may have certain voting patterns. For example, Democrats are more likely to take advantage of early voting days at polls while Republicans often use absentee ballots.
And what does that mean in real terms?
In the 2010 gubernatorial race in Miami-Dade, Scott had only 39.5 percent of the vote compared with 58.9 percent for Alex Sink in early voting. On election day, Sink did even better with 62.7 percent to 35.5 for Scott.
Yet the results were completely turned around in absentee ballots, with Scott getting 56.8 percent of the vote and Sink getting 40.7.
This doesn't mean there was any hanky-panky involved, but it does suggest the governor has a vested interest in making sure new fraud laws do not interfere with absentee ballots.
Which brings us to a funny story.
The former police chief in Hialeah had a suspected boletera filmed as she went door to door in an apartment complex in 2011. When approached, she began complaining of chest pains and ran into a nearby apartment.
Even funnier: The Scott campaign once paid her $5,000 to encourage people to vote in the 2010 election.
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