MIAMI (CBS4) – Early voting is underway in South Florida and Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro is wasting no time trying to get votes. His campaign-sponsored shuttles can be seen all over his district. For free he will bus anyone who needs a ride to the polls.
“I came here because my car didn’t have gas and I wanted to take the van,” Pedro Blanco told CBS4’s David Sutta just before he boarded the bus Monday.
Blanco is one of dozens taking Barreiro up on his offer.
The free ride is not unusual, but what happens when they get to the polls is raising a few eyebrows. Barreiro’s campaign workers, actually county employees on leave, have been seen escorting voters into the voting booth. Once inside they help the voter cast a ballot.
Dona Zemo saw it first hand Saturday when she went to vote on Miami Beach.
“One by one, by one, by one, by one. And then leave. Bring another bus in. Help one by one, by one. I just thought it was inappropriate. I just smelled something. That didn’t look right to me,” Zemo said.
When questioned about it Monday morning, Barreiro responded, “It’s perfectly legal. They requested help for assistance.”
Barreiro said some voters want them there, and he is happy to help.
“They don’t vote for the people; it’s just they might ask, a person might ask a question, and we respond,” Barreiro said.
But is the practice legal? It turns out it is.
Miami-Dade Elections showed Sutta two forms that a voter and the campaign worker must fill out to vote together. The declaration forms allow anyone in the booth to assist, even if it’s a campaign worker.
“You know what? It may be legal but it sure as hell is immoral,” Luis Garcia Jr. told CBS4.
Garcia is running against Barreiro for the District 5 seat. He believes polls workers should be offering help, not the person who drove you to vote.
“Don’t you think that’s a little bit of intimidation when they bring you over, they watch how you vote, then they got to drive you back? What if you don’t vote their way? Are they going to leave you here?” he asked.
Barreiro’s campaign told CBS4 Monday they have driven voters, while rare, who voted against them. They believe not allowing them to assist would be suppressing the vote.
The question remains what does the word assist mean.
“Assisting for a ride is one thing, but hovering over a voter while they are voting is something different,” Zemo said.
Barreiro plans to continue to assist voters as they request through early voting, which ends this weekend.