Miami-Dade Elections Office Updating Software to Make It Easier to Flag Suspicious Absentee-Ballot Requests

A grand jury had recommended that the elections department should beef up security on its website by requiring user logins and passwords after the office uncovered thousands of fraudulent requests for absentee ballots in the August 2012 primary election.

Thursday, Sep 5, 2013  |  Updated 2:49 PM EDT
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Absentee Ballot Count Over in Miami-Dade

Miami-Dade Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley discusses how the counting of absentee ballots in Miami-Dade finished Thursday.

Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections 'Embarrassed'

The Miami-Dade Elections Department on Thursday finished counting the county's more than 240,000 absentee ballots and provided its results to state officials. Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley said she is embarrassed by some of the things that happened, but she's focused on getting it right.
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The Miami-Dade elections department is working with its software vendor to make it easier for staff to flag suspicious absentee-ballot requests.

The Miami Herald reports the change will take effect next year. It won't cost the county any additional money.

A grand jury had recommended that the elections department beef up security on its website by requiring user logins and passwords after the office uncovered thousands of fraudulent requests for absentee ballots in the August 2012 primary election.

But Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley said the grand jury's recommendation would have required an initial investment of $843,000, with possible costs of $743,000 in every major election. And, she told The Herald, legitimate voters may have been dissuaded to request ballots if the system were made more challenging.

"It would have also deterred voters," Townsley said.

Her office flagged more than 2,500 suspicious online requests before the primary election. Under Florida law, only the voter or their immediate family members can request a ballot. But the submissions identified by elections workers came in bulk from a handful of Internet Protocol addresses. In some cases, they listed fake email addresses.

The Herald reports that prosecutors found that the origin of most of the requests was masked by foreign IP addresses that couldn't be traced.

Earlier this year, Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban "Steve" Bovo sponsored a measure directing the elections department to make online absentee requests forms more secure. Grand jurors also made a similar recommendation.

Bovo recently withdrew his legislation, saying he was satisfied with Townsley's efforts.

"We feel, at this point, there's nothing more to be done," he said. "There's no additional expenses that we have to incur ... I'm satisfied with the safety net she's provided."

Townsley said the new system should be in place before next year's midterm elections.

The system will automate part of the process to review online requests before the ballots are sent.

Staffers, however, will still examine the requests.

"There's no getting around, in my opinion, the manual review," she said.

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