The Miami-Dade County Grand Jury, responding to massive election problems in the county, issued a report Thursday asking that the Legislature make several changes to the state voting laws that its members believe would shorten lines at early voting sites and reduce the chance for absentee ballots to be filed fraudulently.
The grand jury is responding after lines of up to five hours plagued some early voting sites in the county and local media reported on possibly fraudulent absentee ballots being cast. They said many of the recommended changes "are easy to implement as we are only asking that they reinstate laws that were previously on the books."
They said the recommendations are aimed at making it more difficult for persons to commit fraud, make it easier for authorities to detect and prosecute such fraud and increase the punishment for voting fraud.
"The widespread belief is that such illegal activity is rampant," the report said. With several contests decided by narrow margins, "can the public have confidence in the election results of these close races? We are not certain they can."
The grand jury recommended that:
- Each absentee ballot be signed by an adult witness verifying that the voter marked and signed his or her ballot.
- If a disabled person requires assistance filling out an absentee ballot that the helper sign a declaration and return it with the ballot.
- Disabled people who get help filling out an absentee ballot from a non-family member also sign a declaration agreeing to the assistance and return it.
- That only election officials be given information about absentee ballots being requested. Currently, political parties and candidates can get that information.
- The number of early voting days be returned to 15 from the eight the Legislature proscribed before this year's election.
- Large counties like Miami-Dade be allowed to increase the number of early voting sites. Currently, only elections offices, city halls and libraries can be used, limiting the number of sites and increasing the size of lines, particularly in populous areas.
"We need to have these witnesses on these absentee ballots because that's going to help law enforcement detect and follow through who are the bolateros involved, who are they, where are they, and it's going to make somebody think twice before they take that absentee ballot and sign it," said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. "I think right now communities throughout the state are ready for election law reforms. I think they've just about had it."
The Legislature is expected to take up election reform in its annual session, which begins in March.