In Hialeah Every Vote Counts

Especially if you're elderly and live in the city's public housing

Significantly the woman also claimed she didn't know who witnessed her ballot, because Ponce allegedly left with it unsigned and unsealed. Yet the ballot made it to the elections department anyway, witnessed by another woman who lives in a different building. Carrillo and another investigator interviewed this woman as well. She wouldn't sign a statement, so Carrillo had his own notes notarized. According to Carrillo, the woman told him she was working with Yadelkis Ponce on the triple campaign. One day Ponce stopped at a building to pick up a ballot. She brought it back to the car and had this woman sign it as a witness, even though she had not been present when the voter signed. If true, that would be a felony. (Yadelkis Ponce denies the allegation. "I don't know what they're talking about," she says. "I didn't do that with anybody." She also denies instructing residents how to vote: "They know me and they know my husband. I'm a personal friend. If they voted for him, it was because of that.")

Last week a man who lives in public housing on West Twelfth Avenue provided an affidavit stating that he was approached by a man and a woman who asked him to vote absentee instead of going to the precinct as usual. They got him an application and came back to collect the ballot. "The man indicated where I should mark my vote," the elderly gentleman recalled in Spanish. "I didn't know for whom to vote." The voter marked his choices: "Aparentemente, marqué mal porque el hombre me dijo, 'Ese no.' Entonces le dijo a la mujer: 'Perdimos a Gonzalez.'" Translation: "Apparently I voted wrong because the man said, 'Not that one.' Then the woman said to him: "We lost Gonzalez."

Most of what the Pizzi's team has uncovered dances on the edge of legality. Many of the people they've talked to say that operatives such as Llamedo, wearing a shirt with a city logo, would ask them to vote absentee even if they usually went to the polls. Then they would come back to pick up the ballot, sometimes advising residents to vote for the incumbents. Alex Morales counters that Pizzi's investigators harass and intimidate his residents with threats of bringing in the authorities if they don't tell them what they want to know.

Several sources told investigators that Morales and the HHA were key influences upon the campaigns. One volunteer recalled an old political operative nicknamed Tio instructing workers to collect ballots from "cross-eyed, blind, mute, deaf, and paralyzed" people. Other volunteers described boxes of absentee ballots arriving for storage in the back office of the headquarters and hearing at least one candidate and an operative mention that it was common practice to throw out opened ballots they didn't like.

These tantalizing allegations are hardly proof of widespread election fraud, but they do suggest that the matter deserves further investigation. "Whereas the City of Miami fraud was like the Keystone Cops, this is harder to prove because it's not names taken off gravestones," Pizzi concedes. "But it's a lot scarier because it involves coercion and intimidation of vulnerable people that's condoned by the people in power."

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