Florida Absentee Ballot System Destroying Democracy

Has President Barack Obama caught the absentee ballot fever that has corrupted Florida's electoral system? Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Tribune reported Barry's reelection campaign is launching an "unprecedented program to encourage supporters to vote by absentee ballot right away." Elections offices across the state mailed out absentee ballot request forms to voters on October 5. It's fast becoming the most convenient way of casting ballots in the state with Gov. Rick Scott's crackdown on early voting.

But absentee ballots are also the easiest way to steal an election as Obama's Republican adversaries in the Sunshine State know all too well.

See also:
- Florida Republicans' Ballot Fraud 2012

Ever since the arrest of two low-level Hialeah political operatives for tampering with absentee ballots not belonging to them in late July, I've been working on a story on how Florida Republicans have mastered the art of winning elections with tainted absentee votes.

The result is this week's cover story explaining the five reasons absentee ballot fraud is a state-wide problem; why history keeps repeating itself; why law enforcement agencies are powerless to protect our right to vote; and how Florida can follow the lead of other states that have curtailed absentee ballot fraud.

That's not to say Democrats don't pulling absentee ballot scams either. One of the most embarrassing absentee ballot scandals in Miami-Dade history involved a 1993 Hialeah city election won by Democrat Raul Martinez. His victory was overturned a year later after a judge found that his and his opponent's campaign had both participated in absentee ballot fraud.

"Democrats have not put the kibosh on absentee fraud because they think they can take advantage of it too" says Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, a voting rights attorney who formerly headed the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition. "Although it does overwhelming help Republicans."

In fact, Republicans -- thanks to toothless laws party legislators passed in Tallahassee to protect the absentee ballot rackets -- are just more magnificent manipulators. Consider the Orwellian tactics of David Siegel, the Republican founder and CEO of Central Florida-based Westgate Resorts.

Siegel told Bloomberg Businessweek in August that he was personally responsible for swinging the 2000 election in George W. Bush's favor by among other things, putting negative articles about Al Gore in the paychecks of his 8,000 employees and conducting surveys of who favored which candidate. "If they liked Bush, we made them register to vote," Siegel boasted. "But not if they liked Gore."

To persuade his employees to vote for Mitt Romney on November 6, Siegel rewrote an Internet chain letter against Obama circulated during the 2008 campaign -- in which the time-share developer warned his serfs that if the president is reelected, he will "have no choice but to reduce the size of this company."

It's the kind of manipulation that evokes memories of Humberto Hernandez, the only prominent Miami elected official (and a Republican to boot) to serve time for absentee ballot fraud. In 1998, Hernandez was convicted pled guilty to to participating in a cover-up of tainted ballots cast in the city election a year earlier.

Criminal investigators discovered that dozens of city employees who did not reside in Miami, but supported Hernandez, lied on their voter registration forms when they switched to addresses in his district. Nine of those individuals registered at homes owned or once occupied by the family of Hernandez's campaign manager and chief of staff. All of them voted via absentee.

Many of them switched their voter registration to addresses in the district just in time to vote in last month's city election, Miami-Dade election records show. Some ballots may have been forged.

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