Miami-Dade Legislative Item
File Number: 121939
   Clerk's Official Copy   

File Number: 121939 File Type: Resolution Status: Adopted as amended
Version: 0 Reference: R-739-12 Control: County Commission
File Name: PRE-PAID RETURN ENVELOPES FOR ABSENTEE BALLOTS Introduced: 9/25/2012
Requester: NONE Cost: Final Action: 9/18/2012
Agenda Date: 9/18/2012 Agenda Item Number: 11A1
Notes: THIS IS FINAL VERSION AS ADOPTED. ALSO SEE 121687 Title: RESOLUTION DIRECTING THE COUNTY MAYOR OR COUNTY MAYOR’S DESIGNEE TO PROVIDE PRE-PAID RETURN ENVELOPES FOR ABSENTEE BALLOTS [SEE ORIGINAL ITEM UNDER FILE NO. 121687]
Indexes: ABSENTEE BALLOT
  ELECTION ISSUES
Sponsors: Esteban L. Bovo, Jr., Prime Sponsor
  Audrey M. Edmonson, Co-Sponsor
  Rebeca Sosa, Co-Sponsor
Sunset Provision: No Effective Date: Expiration Date:
Registered Lobbyist: None Listed


Legislative History

Acting Body Date Agenda Item Action Sent To Due Date Returned Pass/Fail

County Attorney 9/25/2012 Assigned Oren Rosenthal 9/27/2012

Board of County Commissioners 9/18/2012 11A1 AMENDED Adopted as amended P
REPORT: Mayor Michael Pizzi, Town of Miami Lakes, appeared before the Board, stating that the Town of Miami Lakes had enacted a resolution asking the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections to allow the town to provide pre-paid envelopes for absentee ballots at its expense. He said that he and the Miami Lakes Town Council fully supported this measure, and it would allow their town to provide the County with funding to enclose pre-paid envelopes in the absentee ballots. He noted the estimated cost was less than $2,000, and this measure would help preserve the right to vote and the integrity of the ballot as that was very important in a democracy. Mayor Pizzi explained some of the current problems being experienced in regards to the use of the absentee ballots, noting this measure might assist in solving the problems associated with use of the absentee ballots in our County. Mayor Carlos Hernandez, City of Hialeah, appeared before the Board, noting the foregoing issue was relevant to Miami-Dade County and the State of Florida. He stated that this would afford an opportunity to begin the necessary changes, and it would also be necessary to lobby in Tallahassee. He pointed out the importance of absentee ballots, the benefits of this measure and the need for it; however, the manner in which this type of voting was currently organized provided some people with the opportunity to use it as a business, and to the advantage of certain candidates. He noted he concurred with Commissioner Jordan that weekdays be cutback rather than weekend days if it was necessary to reduce the number of days for early voting because Saturdays and Sundays should continue to be part of the days for early voting. Vice Chairwoman Edmonson stated, for the record, that she was supporting Commissioner Bovo on this item because of the importance of this issue; and it was not just a problem isolated to the City of Hialeah because she was experiencing the same problem in her County commission district. Councilman Paul Hernandez, City of Hialeah, appeared before the Board in support of the foregoing resolution; and he urged the Board members to embrace a full comprehensive election reform since the public desired these types of changes be made. He noted it would provide the safeguard and confidence for the voters to feel comfortable in voting from home. Commissioner Bovo observed that for many years government and elected officials had struggled to motivate people to come out to the precincts to vote; and in the past, voters needed to have a medical or legitimate excuse to request an absentee ballot. He noted as time went by the legislature liberalized the process in order to encourage more people to vote. He stated that the proposed resolution hindered the ability of individuals to commit fraud and eliminated the opportunity for all election fraud, and he concurred with the proposal to increase the number of days for early voting because it was no longer a privilege but had become a right. He stressed that no price could be put on this right, and the cost of implementing this measure was minimal. He asked that the Board support this item in order to send a message that its members were willing to address and control the problems associated with absentee ballots in order to encourage voters to vote. Commissioner Sosa asked to be added as a co-sponsor to this item. Following a brief discussion regarding the item’s intent and the associated funding source, Mayor Gimenez stated that the proposed measure was within budget, and he supported it. He noted it was a measure which could be implemented administratively subject to the direction of this Board. In response to Commissioner Jordan’s questions, Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley indicated that the County was no longer spending funds to send voters the sample ballot questions pamphlets; and those funds would now be used to enclose the return envelopes in the absentee ballots. She noted the direct mailing of the general election sample ballot questions pamphlets cost the department approximately $310,000; however the department had implemented a hybrid method, which accomplished a very comfortable distribution level to reach every voting household within the County at a cost of approximately $97,000. Pursuant to Commissioner Jordan’s question regarding the hybrid method, Ms. Townsley explained that the department published the sample ballot questions in the Miami Herald. Commissioner Jordan noted she had proffered an alternate item, and she objected to eliminating the sample ballot questions pamphlets. She explained that, based on a nationwide internet search she conducted, some states had similar problems as the ones being experienced in Florida even when the ballots were mailed to the voters and the pre-paid postage was provided. She said that providing pre-paid postage would not solve the problem of fraud, and it would not prevent senior citizens and home-bound residents from opening their home doors to friends and familiar faces that had come in the past to collect their ballots. She stated that certain individuals had established relationships with the voters, and they collected the list of names of the voters who had not voted absentee to contact them to ensure the ballots were returned. She pointed out that these were the strategies used in the past to ensure ballots were collected, and the stamp was not the problem. She stressed that the problem was the relationship between the voter and the individual providing the assistance to vote, which escalated after the state relaxed the rules for absentee ballots. She urged the County Commission to identify a real resolution to this problem. Commissioner Heyman stated it was critical to increase voter awareness and involvement in the process, and it was also critical to encourage residents to vote. She stated that this measure was not intended to resolve the existing problem since individuals would always find ways to circumvent parameters of integrity. However, she expressed her support for any legislation that would help voters vote; and she requested that this proposed resolution be implemented uniformly in all of Miami-Dade County’s municipalities. She noted the cost was nominal if it encouraged voter participation. Commissioner Sosa expressed her support for this proposed resolution since it was a step in the right direction, even though it would not solve the problem. She noted she concurred with Commissioner Heyman’s suggestion that this resolution include all municipalities. Vice Chairwoman Edmonson and Commissioner Monestime stated that it should be made applicable to all elections. Assistant County Attorney Oren Rosenthal clarified that the proposed ordinance as currently drafted affected all elections; but if the Board wished, the resolution could be amended to make it applicable to countywide elections only. He noted municipalities generally controlled their elections, but the Board could adopt the policy to send out with the absentee ballot a pre-paid postage return envelope for municipal elections as well. Commissioner Sosa recommended that this resolution be applicable to countywide elections only due to budgetary constraints. Commissioner Bovo noted he concurred with Commissioner Sosa’s recommendation. Assistant County Attorney Rosenthal recommended that this proposed resolution be amended to insert the word “countywide” before the word “elections” in Section 1 to read “all countywide elections” to resolve ambiguity in the item. Commissioner Bovo accepted the amendment recommended by the Assistant County Attorney. Commissioner Diaz thanked the Mayor for implementing this resolution administratively to reduce costs. He expressed his support for Commissioner Heyman’s suggestion that this proposed resolution be implemented uniformly; but he stated he was unsupportive of the statement indicating that minorities required additional time to vote. He said this proposal could help curtail fraud, which was a problem spreading beyond the County. Commissioner Diaz pointed out that it would be considered mail fraud if a voter mailed a fraudulent absentee ballot, and mail fraud was under the jurisdiction of the federal government. He also pointed out that this would help prosecute ballot fraud in order to curtail it. He made the following future recommendations: 1. that the Board review the criteria allowing candidates running for office or Political Action Committees (PAC) to obtain a list of absentee voters’ names; 2. that the Board review the Elections Department’s receiving process for absentee ballots; 3. that the Board review the Election Department’s processing and entering processes for absentee ballots; and 4. that the entering process be automated to minimize human involvement. In response to Commissioner Jordan’s inquiry, Mayor Gimenez clarified that the cost of this proposal would be internally absorbed; and its implementation would not compromise any County positions. He confirmed that the amendment would not change the cost. Ms. Townsley reiterated that the amendment would not change the cost of implementing this proposal, which was calculated based on the historical turnout of 200,000 absentee ballots previously mailed in a countywide election assuming all of those ballots were returned. In response to Commissioner Jordan’s question, Assistant County Attorney Rosenthal clarified that the figure referenced in the resolution was based on a countywide election; therefore, the ceiling cap amount estimated for a countywide election was $170,000. Commissioner Jordan noted she wished to withdraw Agenda Item 11A1 Alternate if the implementation cost would not eliminate any County employees’ positions, and it was restricted to countywide elections only. Ms. Townsley further clarified that the cost referenced in the resolution was based on the highest absentee ballot mailing in a countywide election. Commissioner Jordan withdrew Agenda Item 11A1 Alternate. Commissioner Barreiro expressed his support for the foregoing resolution, noting, for the record, the sample ballot mailed in the past was extremely confusing to the voters due to the inclusion of all sorts of irrelevant information on the congressional races and running candidates. He recommended that, in the future, sample ballots should be specific to the County commission district of the voter to timely provide information to the voters. Commissioner Barreiro noted the reference to absentee ballots was very deceiving because it was no longer considered an absentee ballot since it had been changed to voting by mail. Commissioner Barreiro stated that fraud could be minimized if the requirement of two or possibly three witnesses’ signatures on the ballot was reenacted as in the past. Commissioner Barreiro expressed support for this resolution and the implementation of a process to vote by mail due to its convenience because it allowed sufficient time to analyze the candidate and have issues and questions clarified. He stated that, in the future, perhaps voting by computers would be made available. Commissioner Monestime expressed his support for this resolution; and even though this resolution did not resolve all of the voting problems, it represented a step in the right direction. He also expressed his support for sending pre-paid return envelopes to all citizens in every election as originally presented. Commissioner Bovo clarified that the intent of the foregoing proposed resolution was to provide pre-paid return envelopes for countywide elections only. He explained the intent of the item, the original proposal, and the amendment proffered. He noted municipalities running an election outside of the County’s election cycle would be required to fund their municipal election. He stated the Mayor’s and his intent were to ensure as much transparency as possible in the County’s elections, and he had no objections to the inclusion of municipalities in the proposed resolution even though he believed it would only complicate matters. Vice Chairwoman Edmonson noted she concurred with Commissioner Bovo’s statement regarding the inclusion of municipalities. She stated that the Town of Miami Lakes’ resolution would be null if the Board adopted Item 11A1. Discussion ensued regarding the inclusion of municipalities and whether it should only apply to countywide elections. Pursuant to Commissioner Diaz’s inquiry as to whether all entities would be required to follow this procedure, Assistant County Attorney Rosenthal explained that the status quo provided discretion to the County administration to determine whether or not to include pre-paid return envelopes with absentee ballots. He noted the Mayor had made a statement to the effect that he would exercise his discretion as to whether to include a pre-paid return envelope for countywide elections if the Board failed to act, but this resolution as amended required that a pre-paid return envelope be sent out with the absentee ballot for all countywide elections. He advised that the ability of municipalities to control their own elections remained unchanged; consequently, municipal elections would be addressed on a per municipality basis. He said that the only policy direction addressed by this item was the policy relating to whether to include a pre-paid return envelope with the absentee ballot for countywide elections; and currently, no policy direction was included for municipal elections or non-County elections. In response to Commissioner Monestime’s question regarding whether municipalities could be required to include pre-paid return envelopes with absentee ballots, Assistant County Attorney Rosenthal replied that the Board could establish a policy statement; but the question as to whether municipalities could be mandated to fund this required research. He noted the Mayors of the Town of Miami Lakes and the City of Hialeah were willing to fund this, but he would have to research whether other municipalities could be required to provide pre-paid return envelopes with absentee ballots. Following a discussion regarding whether municipalities could be required to provide pre-paid return envelopes with the absentee ballots, Commissioner Monestime stated voting should be made easy to encourage residents to vote. Pursuant to Commissioner Monestime’s question regarding whether it should be considered as voting by absentee ballot or mail, Assistant County Attorney Rosenthal advised that the term used was “absentee ballot;” and it was defined legislatively through the State of Florida. He explained that Oregon had a vote by mail system where voters voted by mail in a manner very similar to our absentee ballot system, but the change in name had to be accomplished through the state’s legislative process. Commissioner Monestime noted he supported pursuing changing the state’s definition. Hearing no other comments or objections, the Board members proceeded to vote on the foregoing proposed resolution as amended to insert in Section 1 the word “countywide” between the words “all” and “elections.”

Legislative Text


TITLE
RESOLUTION DIRECTING THE COUNTY MAYOR OR COUNTY MAYOR’S DESIGNEE TO PROVIDE PRE-PAID RETURN ENVELOPES FOR ABSENTEE BALLOTS

BODY
WHEREAS, Miami-Dade County recently has experienced examples of alleged absentee ballot fraud; and
WHEREAS, absentee ballot fraud is typically associated with ballot brokers who seek to influence absentee voters by, among other methods, offering to pay the cost of postage for the return of absentee ballots to the Supervisor of Elections; and
WHEREAS, providing postage pre-paid return envelopes for absentee ballots will decrease the ability of ballot brokers to illegally influence voters in Miami-Dade County; and
WHEREAS, the right to vote is a fundamental right in a democracy and should not be impeded by the payment of any costs such as postage; and
WHEREAS, the cost for providing pre-paid return envelopes would not exceed one hundred and seventy thousand dollars ($170,000.00) in any county-wide election,
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA, that:
Section 1. It shall be the policy of this Board to provide postage pre-paid return envelopes for all absentee ballots sent out by the Supervisor of Elections. The County Mayor or County Mayor’s designee is hereby directed to provide postage pre-paid return envelopes for domestic absentee voters in all county-wide elections in Miami-Dade County commencing with the November 6, 2012 general election.

Section 2. In the event that there are insufficient funds in the budget for the Department of Elections, the County Mayor or County Mayor’s designee is directed to provide the necessary funding to the Department of Elections for all costs of providing pre-paid return envelopes for domestic absentee ballots through the mid-year budget amendment.



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