A 74-year-old woman tasked with opening envelopes sent by Miami-Dade County voters with their completed mail ballots was arrested Friday after co-workers caught her illegally marking ballots, resulting in an unknown — but small — number of fraudulent votes being cast for mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado.
Investigators linked Coego, a temporary worker for the county elections department, to two fraudulent votes, but they suspect from witness testimony that she submitted several more.
Coego, of Westchester, turned herself in to the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center on Friday morning. She’s expected to be charged with two felony counts of marking another person’s ballot.
In a separate election-fraud case, authorities also arrested a second woman for unlawfully filling out voter-registration forms on behalf of United for Care, the campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Florida.
The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office plans to accuse Tomika Curgil, 33, of filling out forms for five people without their consent. She also submitted at least 17 forms for people who apparently don’t exist — and several forms for people who are dead.
Police officers arrested Curgil at her Liberty City home Friday morning and intend to charge her with five felony counts of submitting false voter-registration information.
“Our law enforcement effort against these election law violators was swift and resulted in an immediate arrest of the wrongdoers,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, a Democrat, said in a statement. “The elections department was quick to detect and report these violations to our task force.
“Anyone who attempts to undermine the democratic process should recognize that there is an enforcement partnership between the elections department and our prosecution task force in place to thwart such efforts and arrest those involved. Now we need to move forward with the election.”
The cases were investigated by her office’s public corruption task force, which comprises police officers from several jurisdictions, including Miami-Dade, Miami, Miami Beach, Doral and the Miami-Dade school district. The task force is headed by prosecutor Tim VanderGiesen.
The arrests come as Republican Donald Trump has claimed the presidential election is “rigged” to favor Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. There is no evidence of the widespread, systematic election fraud that would be required to swing a national election, though the Miami-Dade arrests show small, isolated cases of perpetrated or attempted fraud exist.
Coego’s job was to remove mail ballots from envelopes and check for any paper tears before introducing them into an optical scanner to count the votes. Miami-Dade started counting mail ballots Monday, as allowed by Florida law.
Investigators say Coego picked out ballots in which voters had left the county mayoral race blank and bubbled in Regalado’s name. Sometimes, the marking was obvious because she used a different color pen than the actual voter.
Colleagues who spotted Coego’s illicit voting beginning Monday alerted their supervisor, who on Tuesday witnessed Coego marking a ballot. Caught red-handed, Coego admitted what she had done, though she didn’t tell investigators why. Authorities did not tie her to Regalado’s — or any other candidate’s — campaign.
Coego does not appear to have contributed to or been paid by any Miami-Dade or Florida candidate, according to county and state campaign-finance databases. She voted by mail in the Aug. 30 primary election, election records show, and has already sent in her mail ballot for the Nov. 8 general.
Coego is registered without political-party affiliation. Regalado, a Republican, is running for the nonpartisan mayor’s post against incumbent Carlos Gimenez, who is also a Republican. As strong mayor, Gimenez appointed Elections Supervisor Christina White and is ultimately in charge of her department.
On Thursday, Regalado sued to boot Gimenez off the ballot, contending he should be disqualified because he initially wrote the wrong date on his candidate-qualifying check. A recent poll showed Gimenez crushing Regalado, a sitting Miami-Dade school board member and the daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, by 22 percentage points.
In the second fraud case, Curgil ostensibly registered voters for People United for Medical Marijuana, the political committee financing the “Yes” campaign for Amendment 2. The elections department flagged one of Curgil’s batches of forms as suspicious because all the registrations appeared to have been filled out and signed by the same person. After running the names, the department found several of the listed voters were deceased.
Investigators placed Curgil, a registered Democrat, under surveillance on Oct. 18, the last day to register. They didn’t see her sign anyone up — yet she submitted 22 registration forms the next day. Five real people whose names appeared on the forms told the authorities they had no idea the forms were submitted under their names. Some of them were already longtime registered voters.
In some cases, all the information on the forms was wrong except for voters’ name and birth date. It’s unclear where Curgil might have obtained those details.
Like Coego, Curgil’s name does not appear as a contributor or payee on county or state campaign-finance databases.
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