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Judge: Miami-Dade Has Authority To Enact Absentee Ballot Law

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A Miami-Dade circuit judge has refused to throw out a county ordinance that makes possession of more than two absentee ballots a misdemeanor.

According to our news partner The Miami Herald, Judge Milton Hirsch ruled Friday that Miami-Dade has the authority to limit how many absentee ballots a voter can possess.

The ruling came in the case of Sergio "El Tio" Robaina, whose lawyers had challenged the county ordinance.

Prosecutors said Robaina, 74, the uncle of former Hialeah Mayor Julia Robaina, illegally collected absentee ballots and filled out two against the wishes of two voters, one of them a woman with dementia. He faces two felony counts of voter fraud, and two misdemeanor counts of illegally possessing absentee ballots.

The Miami-Dade County Commission, worried about the perception of election fraud, passed the ordinance two years ago.

A person may turn in only two absentee ballots in addition to their own: one belonging to an immediate family member and another belonging to a voter who has signed a sworn statement designating that person as responsible.

Friday's order by Judge Hirsch was his second ruling against Robaina.

Last month, Hirsch ruled that Robaina did not have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the ordinance. His lawyers argued that the law disenfranchise elderly Hispanic voters who rely on friends and associates to help them deliver absentee ballots.

In Robaina's latest request, lawyers claimed that Miami-Dade County — under a recent state voting law — did not have the power to enact the ordinance because elections also feature state and national candidates.

But Florida, in 1885, granted Miami-Dade County sweeping powers because of its unique status as the state's preeminent city.

Hirsch pointed out that decades ago, the state's Supreme Court said Miami-Dade was a "teeming, cosmopolitan city" that needed broad powers to legislate its affairs. The same hold true even today, Hirsch ruled.

"Miami has become one of the crossroads of the world," Hirsch wrote in a 15-page order. "It is a leader on a global scale, in countless commercial, cultural and other activities."

The judge agreed with county attorneys, who said absentee ballot fraud had become a "cottage industry" unique to Miami-Dade. The ordinance, the judge said, still does not prevent a Miami voter from filling out an absentee ballot and mailing it.

Robaina has long admitted to collecting the ballots, but merely as a way to help elderly citizens. The probe started after authorities discovered 164 absentee ballots dropped off at a North Miami-Dade post office.

The bundle was dropped off by an aide to Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban "Steve" Bovo, who has not been accused of wrongdoing. Robaina has consistently shifted the blame to that aide, now a key witness against him.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report.)

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