The arrest of a small-time, middle-aged Republican political operative in South Florida for mail ballot fraud should lay bare the continuing hypocrisy of Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders who have spent thousands of dollars in public money to defend faulty plans to purge the voter rolls. The biggest threat to voting in Florida is not that a smattering of ineligible voters cast ballots at the polls. The mail ballots promoted by supervisors of election such as Pinellas' Deborah Clark are far more vulnerable to corruption. If Republican leaders are really interested in voting integrity — and not just in disenfranchising Democratic-leaning constituencies — mail ballot reform is where they should focus their efforts.
The Miami Herald reported earlier this month that detectives acting on a tip followed Deisy Cabrera, a 56-year-old Hialeah woman, for just two days before getting enough evidence to charge her with a third-degree felony and collect 31 suspicious ballots. Cabrera was acting as a boletera, an old-style political operative in South Florida's Cuban-American communities deployed to help senior citizens vote by mail. But authorities said Cabrera crossed the line when she allegedly signed the mail ballot of a terminally ill nursing home resident who cannot speak, write or comprehend.
Cabrera's arrest highlights just how easy it is to corrupt the mail vote — from obtaining a ballot for an inactive voter illegally, to exerting undue influence at the moment a ballot is filled out, to forging voter signatures. Requesting a mail ballot over the phone requires just a voter's name, address and date of birth — information easily gleaned from public documents. And the caller can request the ballot be shipped somewhere other than the voter's primary residence.
Compare that to the polling place, where poll workers check IDs, watch voters sign their names, monitor the voting and then directly collect the ballots. There's even a requirement that political operatives stumping for candidates must remain 100 feet from the door to the polling location.
Yet with a mail ballot, none of those securities apply. As long as the signature on the outside of the ballot envelope can pass as the voter's own once it arrives at the elections office, the vote is counted. Cash-strapped county officials such as Pinellas' Clark aggressively market the mail ballot because it's cheaper to administer. They are actually promoting the state's least-secure ballot option, but neither the governor nor state legislators have raised a peep about that. It's probably just a coincidence that mail ballots are far more popular with Republican voters than others.
The next time Scott or legislative leaders defend the indefensible 2011 voting law that reduced early voting and made it harder for some voters to cast a ballot at the polls — changes that disproportionately affected Democrats and minority voters — they need to explain why mail ballots get a free pass.