Juan Pablo Baggini and campaign manager Esteban “Steve” Suarez, whom the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office contends directed Baggini, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of attempting to submit an absentee ballot request of behalf of voters in connection with the Miami mayoral candidate Francis Suarez’s campaign, Baggini and Steve Suarez agreed to serve up to a year of probation for unlawfully submitting 20 of the ballot requests online. The campaign paid two women who worked for an event promoter to legally sign up voters for absentee ballots, giving shots of alcohol in exchange for their signing forms authorizing the campaign to request ballots on their behalf. However, the campaign used them those ballots illegally by submitting the requests online instead of mailing the forms to the county Elections Department. Each time, Baggini, Suarez’s operations manager, had to swear or affirm that he was the voter or an immediate family member, as required by Florida elections law, which he was neither.
Absentee voters, who submit their ballots by mail, make up an ever-increasing share of the Florida electorate, as a result of relaxed voting laws and aggressive campaign strategies. In the coming election, as many as one in four Florida voters will cast their ballots from home instead of a voting booth.
Despite the recurring fraud problems, state lawmakers have repeatedly loosened the state’s absentee voting rules, making it easier to vote from home, which many claim is also making vote fraud harder to detect. At the same time, the state has increased scrutiny of in-person voters by requiring those voters to provide photo ID at the polling place, conveniently a burden that absentee voters do not have to bear.
As a result of the lax standards used to control voter fraud via an absentee ballot, many are tempted to forge a ballot. An unfortunate outcome for many in this situation is a charge elections fraud, which can be very costly for many of Florida’s citizens, many who are at the start of their life, thinking that forging a few ballots now for a politician will pay off later in the future, in the form of a job or some other electoral kickback. What one should understand about this charge is that elections fraud is in many ways a broad scope offense.
Elections fraud means any irregularities or fraud arising out of or in connection with voter registration or voting, or candidate petition or issue petition activities. A person who commits or attempts to commit any fraud in connection with voting, votes a fraudulent ballot, or votes more than once in an election can be convicted of a felony of the third degree and fined up to $5,000 and/or imprisoned for up to 5 years.
Florida law now allows campaigns to track absentee ballots in real time, confirming on a daily basis who has voted and who still has a ballot at home. As such, many of the absentee ballots that emanated from IP addresses in the South Florida area and are many times the subject of more than just a zealous campaigner; they are subject to electoral fraud. Many times, a registered voter’s absentee ballot is falsified without any knowledge of the voter. Other times, someone will attempt to buy the vote with pork rinds and beer. In either situation, these ballot watchers and campaigners selectively target members of a particular party, sometimes democrat, sometimes republican, to vote in the new campaigns used for Florida congressional districts.
Absentee ballot voter fraud is many times committed by proxy voting, due to the amount of trust placed in the person who casts the vote. In many places throughout Florida and the nation, there are have been allegations of retirement home residents being asked to fill out ‘absentee voter’ forms. When the forms are signed and gathered, they are then secretly rewritten as applications for proxy votes, naming party activists or their friends and relatives as the proxies. These people, unknown to the voter, then cast the vote for the party of their choice.
Many of these proxy voter frauds accomplished through fraudulent absentee ballots rely on elderly care home residents all throughout South Florida, many who are presently absent-minded, or suffering from dementia. This practice, known in many locations as ‘granny farming’, has been slightly restricted in recent years by a change in the law which prevents a single voter acting as a proxy for more than two non-family members therefore requiring more people to be involved in any fraud. However, many still risk a felony charge for what is still an uncertain outcome.
One in a situation such as this should obtain an experienced Jacksonville election fraud crimes defense attorney to fight for one’s case and ensure one’s rights, defenses, and options are known and protected. One cannot fight this battle alone. With the help of an experienced attorney, one can be sure that this mistake will be whited out of one’s life and become a thing of the past.
The Forbess Law Firm has been aiding clients who face criminal charges in Jacksonville for years and are here to provide aggressive criminal defense to anyone accused of a crime. If you or a loved one require a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, contact our firm today. We are available through our website or by calling us at 904-634-0900.
Additional Source: 2 aides for Miami mayoral candidate Francis Suarez receive probation, Patricia Mazzei and Melissa Sanchez, Miami Herald