Campaign finance reports show Florida Governor Rick Scott -- who framed recent evidence-defying efforts to purge state voter rolls, limit registration and reduce early voting hours as a protection of "honest" elections -- hired an alleged Miami-Dade absentee ballot broker during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
Scott's campaign paid a $5,000 "contract labor" fee to 74-year-old Hialeah resident Emelina Llanes, who was identified as a so-called boletera to the Miami Herald and by El Nuevo Herald, multiple Miami-Dade watchdog blogs, and former Hialeah Police Chief Rolando Bolaños.
The Republican Party of Florida has not responded to HuffPost's request for comment about the campaign finance records, which indicate only that Llanes was paid by Scott's campaign, provide no further specifics as to her services, and do not constitute evidence of any wrong-doing. Llanes previously told El Nuevo in Spanish that she does help register voters, but "I am not a boletera. I am a quiet person, in my house, and I help all I can."
But Bolaños and another city employee told Miami New Times they saw Llanes go door-to-door at a Hialeah public housing building for the elderly during the city's 2011 mayoral election, collecting ballots from elderly residents:
"When she came out, we approached her because we believed she was carrying ballots," Bolaños says. "She started yelling that she was being violated and that she had chest pains."
The ex-cop says Llanes, who allegedly had the ballots in a bag, ran into an apartment. When two Hialeah Police officers responded to the scene, they found no ballots, and Llanes denied the accusations.
Technically tasked with offering to help voters fill out ballots or ensure their votes are mailed, which is legal, boleteros have the opportunity to sway or bribe voters, change ballot selections, and forge signatures. It is illegal in Florida to possess more than two absentee ballots, but some have reportedly been spotted delivering stacks of ballots to post offices or election headquarters.
Multiple recent candidates told the Herald they were contacted by boleteros who offered to guarantee votes for money. Lourdes Cambó, who lost a judicial race, told the paper she was approached with such a proposition at a Hialeah picnic in June, when an unnamed boletera reduced her asking price three times as Cambó repeatedly declined the offer.
“It’s an insult to the democratic system,” Cambó said. “Judges have to be almost saints, and they can’t be hiring boleteros.”
Such ballot brokers are especially prevalent in highly political and Republican-heavy Cuban-American Miami-Dade communities like Llanes' Hialeah, where boletera Deisy Cabrera was recently charged with illegally collecting 31 ballots -- including one forged on behalf of an elderly woman who lay unresponsive in an assisted living facility.
The ongoing investigation has also snagged a former Hialeah mayor's uncle, who was charged with fraud for filling out two ballots in opposition to the voters' intentions -- and with whom Llanes was allegedly engaged in a "turf war" over the Hialeah public housing building. The probe has sideswiped the offices of both a sitting county commissioner and the Miami-Dade State Attorney, who recused herself from the Cabrera case.
Lawsuits by losing candidates flew in the wake of Florida's August primary, when absentee ballots accounted for more than one-third of all votes in Miami-Dade County.
Boleteros "hover on the edge of the letter and spirit of the law,” state Democratic campaign consultant Christian Ulvert told the Miami Herald last month. "These boleteros in Miami-Dade have become like some political consultants. You don’t want them working for you. But you don’t want them working against you. So some candidates figure you just have to pay them.”
The shady practice has become so ingrained that among Republicans, who typically benefit from Hialeah's most prominent boleteros, there are calls for an end to the practice.
"Like many others in our community, I knew that certain well-known boleteras controlled blocs of absentee votes in Miami-Dade County mostly from elderly voters either too senile or too indifferent to care. And that these boleteras are available for hire," wrote Paul Crespo, a losing GOP candidate for state representative, in a letter to the Miami Herald.
Crespo added that "Absentee ballot fraud is undermining the integrity of our elections...We can no longer turn a blind eye to this electoral cancer."
But Scott has waged his voter battles where there is no evidence of widespread fraud and all but ignored the absentee ballot shenanigans that have long plagued elections in Miami-Dade, where according to New Times the governor outpaced his 2010 opponent Democrat Alex Sink by 20,745 votes despite losing election day balloting.
Scott wound up winning the election by about one percentage point.
Earlier on HuffPost:
Non-Transparent Transparency Program
After Florida Governor Rick Scott encouraged journalists to access his emails through his transparency program Project Sunburst in lieu of filing public records requests,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/31/rick-scott-emails-omitted-project-sunburst_n_1723747.html" target="_hplink"> it was revealed that emails to his official email account weren't in fact included</a> -- Project Sunburst was only displaying emails sent to a second account that appears on Florida Tea Party websites. As a result at least one news report included a positively-skewed view of Scott after his Lt. Governor made anti-gay comments.
Doctored Newspaper Front Page
Florida Governor Rick Scott's Facebook managers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/rick-scott-facebook_n_1417499.html?utm_hp_ref=rick-scott" target="_hplink">posted an image containing a doctored <em>Miami Herald </em>headline</a>, prompting the paper's managing editor to demand it be removed. The post, since deleted from the Governor's social media page, swapped in the headline "New Law Helps Put Floridians Back To Work" in place of the paper's original headline from 2007, "Murders Highlight Rise In Crime In Guatemala" -- making it appear an editorial from the governor had run above the fold on the <em>Herald</em>'s front page.
"Prayers" In Public Schools
Scott approved <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/01/florida-house-inspirational-messages-bill-approved_n_1313368.html" target="_hplink">SB 98, which means that Florida students are now allowed to deliver "inspirational messages" </a>that include everything from prayers to manifestos at mandatory school events.
Refuses Affordable Care Act
In a statement, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/01/florida-health-care-law_n_1641990.html?utm_hp_ref=miami&ir=Miami" target="_hplink">the governor said the healthcare law would not aid</a> economic growth in his state "and since Florida is legally allowed to opt out, that's the right decision for our citizens."
Scott met with King Juan Carlos of Spain during his economic development mission and immediately managed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/24/rick-scott-king-of-spain-elephant_n_1542066.html?utm_hp_ref=rick-scott" target="_hplink">to bring up the uncomfortable topic of the monarch's disastrous elephant hunting trip to Botswana</a>.
Ads On State Trails
In the midst of old-growth live oak hammocks, wild orchids, and vistas of Lakes Wales Ridge in Lake Kissimmee State Park, Florida hikers may soon see signs boasting "Buster Island Loop, brought to you by Pollo Tropical." <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/09/rock-scott-ads-state-trails_n_1502972.html" target="_hplink">Governor Rick Scott approved a bill </a>permitting advertising on state greenways and trails, which went into effect July 1, 2012.
The Governor is in a legal battle with the U.S. Justice Department over the state's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/26/rick-scott-florida-governor-voter-list_n_1628607.html?utm_hp_ref=rick-scott" target="_hplink">effort to remove non-U.S. citizens from lists of registered voters </a>ahead of this year's presidential election. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Reverses Ban On Dying Animals Artificial Colors
Just before Easter, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/07/rick-scott-approves-artif_n_1409749.html" target="_hplink">Florida Governor Rick Scott approved an agricultural bill, which permits animals to be dyed neon green and dayglo pink</a>.
Random Drug Testing
The governor passed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/27/drug-testing-florida-state-workers-lawmakers_n_1300331.html" target="_hplink">a law permitting state agencies to randomly drug test employees every 3 months</a>.
49,000 Voters Discouraged From Polls
Florida took center stage in the 2012 elections, when voters around the state had to wait in line at the polls for up to nine hours. Gov. Rick Scott (R) initially denied that there was any problem, saying it was "very good" that people were getting out to vote. But a new study shows that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/19/rick-scott-not-favored-by_n_2328614.html?utm_hp_ref=rick-scott" target="_hplink">tens of thousands of people were actually discouraged from voting because of the long lines</a>. According to an analysis by Theodore Allen, an associate professor of industrial engineering at Ohio State University, as many as 49,000 individuals in Central Florida did not vote because of the problems at the polls.
Dismal Approval Rating -- Even Amongst GOP
Most Florida voters, including Republicans, would like to see Gov. Rick Scott (R) challenged in 2014, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/19/rick-scott-not-favored-by_n_2328614.html?utm_hp_ref=rick-scott" target="_hplink">according to a poll released by Quinnipiac University</a>. More than half of voters said Scott didn't deserve a second term, and 55 percent, including 53 percent of Republicans, wanted another candidate to challenge the governor in a primary. Scott's approval ratings, though improved from 2011, were also underwater.
Cost Taxpayers $1 Million In Legal Fees
Governor Rick Scott's long list of controversial legislation -- including tweaking the state's pension plans, require drug testing of those on welfare, cutting teachers' pay, and purging voters -- may have cost Florida taxpayers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/31/rick-scott-costs-florida-_n_2388780.html" target="_hplink">upwards of $1 million in legal bills</a>. The latest legal bill tallies at $190,000 after a federal court ruled that Florida has to pay the attorney fees as Scott fights for the right to drug test state workers. The Orlando Sentinel found that Scott has already cost taxpayers nearly $900,000 in attorney fees as he fights for his conversational legislation, making this latest legal bill tilt the tally over $1 million.
First-Time Drug Offenders
Florida Governor Rick Scott <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/10/gov-rick-scott-vetoes-bil_n_1414758.html">vetoed a widely popular bill that would send certain non-violent drug addicts to treatment after serving half their sentences</a>. “He said it was a 'public safety’ issue. No it’s not,” said bill sponsor Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Fort Lauderdale) according to the Miami Herald. “These are non-violent drug offenders.” The bill, a rare common sense favorite during a legislative season that saw Scott approve dying animals and Jay-Z lyrics debated on the House floor, was opposed by only four state lawmakers.
Docs. vs. Glocks
Gov. Scott <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/30/docs-vs-glocks-appeal-ric_n_1720370.html">pushed back when a federal judge ruled</a> a law gagging Florida physicians from asking patients if they owned guns unconstitutional. U.S. District Court Judge cited the government-imposed gag order as a violation of free speech protection under the First Amendment.
Campaign finance reports show Florida Governor Rick Scott -- who framed recent evidence-defying efforts to purge state voter rolls, limit registration and reduce early voting hours as a protection of "honest" elections -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/17/rick-scott-hired-boletera-boletero_n_1890552.html">hired an alleged Miami-Dade absentee ballot broker during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign</a>. Scott's campaign paid a $5,000 "contract labor" fee to 74-year-old Hialeah resident Emelina Llanes, who was identified as a so-called boletera to the Miami Herald and by El Nuevo Herald, multiple Miami-Dade watchdog blogs, and former Hialeah Police Chief Rolando Bolaños.
Closes TB Hospital
In an austerity measure, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and state representatives <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/florida-tuberculosis-outbreak-kept-secret_n_1658916.html">voted to close A.G. Holley State Hospital in Palm Beach County, the state's only tuberculosis hospital</a>, citing a decline in Florida TB cases since 2010. But according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida was suffering one of the largest uncontained TB outbreaks in 20 years -- and the largest spike nationwide -- resulting in 13 deaths and 99 illnesses, mostly among the homeless.
Gives Out Number For Sex Hotline
Florida governor Rick Scott <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/10/rick-scott-phone-sex-hotline-meningitis_n_1954060.html">accidentally sent constituents seeking information on a fungal meningitis outbreak to a phone sex hotline</a>.