Florida has dominated voting rights news for its attempts to restrict registration and early voting, for its questionable voter purge, for the local elections officials who’ve opposed such measures, and for the flurry of lawsuits that have followed.
But what most of us haven’t heard about is the issue of absentee voter fraud that, while not widespread, has occurred in parts of Florida for the past twenty years. While voter fraud in general remains nearly nonexistent, two cities with high Cuban-American populations in Florida have seen incidents where absentee ballots have been illegally brokered. Florida’s changes to its electoral system, meanwhile, haven’t addressed the ballot-brokering but have created changes that make it harder for other people of color to vote.
Meet Graciela C. Catasús, a member of ColorOfChange.org, and the newest addition to our team of community journalists. Originally from Cuba, she’s worried about the way her community pays little attention to ballot-brokering, while advocating for changes to existing voting laws that disenfranchise voters of color.
Florida’s Own Voting Rules
Florida is a land of newcomers. Some come to retire, while others migrate from different countries, often escaping political persecution and poverty. I was still a teenager when my own family arrived from Cuba in 1959, pending Castro’s imminent takeover. If nothing else, voting is important in Florida because it potentially gives retiring seniors and new citizens here a stronger voice. But that does not appear to be the case.
Voters in Florida have not been paying close enough attention to how best to protect their own needs and aspirations through the ballot box. We’ve allowed a legislature to enact unnecessary voting laws that suppress certain groups of people from exercising their right to vote, while allowing that legislature to ignore a unique brand of absentee ballot brokering—mostly in Miami and Hialeah.
Florida’s lawmakers passed unnecessary electoral reforms in 2011 to restrict voter registration drives and to cut off early voting hours—a move that affects eligible black and Latino voters. The recent voter purge has been aimed to supposedly counter “immigrant fraud” during this last election cycle. Never mind that Florida’s county electoral boards have affirmed that fraud by non-citizens has not been reported in any past elections.
Florida’s actions appear to follow similar trends in other swing states, leading many to wonder if this is a tandem effort to suppress voting rights in states with sizeable Latino populations. Colorado and New Mexico are also cracking down on voter fraud—despite the fact that there is no evidence that it actually exists.
What does exist in Florida’s cities with large Cuban-American populations, such as Miami and Hialeah, are absentee ballot-brokers. These brokers have been directing the elderly and disabled to cast votes that may or may not have reflected these voters’ choices. As the Miami Herald reports, Deisy Penton de Cabrera was charged with a felony, accused of committing absentee-ballot fraud ahead of this month’s primary election. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this happen, and it’s unlikely to be the last.
Testifying before a US Senate Committee in January 2012, Daniel Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida, contributed that—despite the scandals—Florida’s recent election laws will make “absentee ballot fraud more difficult to prosecute” and wondered if the Republican-led legislature has not purposefully done this to continue enjoying the advantage their party has over Democrats in this method of voting.
Because voting grants constituents an opportunity to speak for their individual needs and beliefs, manipulation of elections is a shameful and immoral act. Florida’s Cuban exile community, which lost its own country under tragically undemocratic circumstances, should be highly responsive to voting as well as upholding electoral regulations in the strictest of ways. Unfortunately, rather than educating itself on how best to follow democracy’s tenets, the Cuban-American community has ignored fellow exiles who have rigged elections and instead supports unwarranted legislation that will keep other Latinos away from the polls.
—Graciela C. Catasús