A former state lawmaker’s campaign’s involvement in possible ballot tampering is being questioned after a WhatsApp conversation was leaked to local media earlier this week.
The Miami New Times reported that chat transcripts of campaign volunteers, whose phone numbers match records of individuals who were contracted by a political consultant to work on behalf of Republican Alex Diaz de la Portilla, demonstrated alleged stealing and destruction of ballots for a special election to fill a seat on the Miami-Dade County Commission for District 5 last year.
The 150-pages of chat transcripts included images of absentee ballots, inside and outside of envelopes, with captions from the campaign volunteers discussing what their plans were for them.
150-page WhatsApp chat appears to show Miami-Dade Commission candidate Alex Diaz de la Portilla's campaign workers tampered with absentee ballots because Miami: https://t.co/cKbp3BSDup pic.twitter.com/elfcw8KFKn
— Billy Corben (@BillyCorben) May 20, 2019
Diaz de la Portilla was running for a special election to the county board seat in May 2018. He lost in the first round of balloting to Republican Zoraida Barreiro and Democrat Eileen Higgins, who both went on to a second runoff round in June. Higgins won in the runoff, per reporting from the Miami Herald.
In one post in the chat transcripts, someone wrote in Spanish, “Stolen, hahahaa. I did not give it to the lady but what do we do if she voted for Zoraida????” Others within the chat group encouraged that person to find a way to keep the ballot from ever being seen. The original poster wrote they “have it super hidden,” adding later on in the thread, “Thank God we took away votes from two Democrats.”
In another thread, a separate campaign worker showed a ballot with an actual vote for Barreiro, another Republican running in the race, being placed on it. “Byebye,” the caption to that post read, with another worker writing, “Eliminada” in response.
Diaz de la Portilla was asked for comment from the New Times. He eventually responded via text message to the newspaper. “None of this is from my campaign or my campaign workers. Your article is libelous,” he said.
Yet at several points within the chat group, Diaz de la Portilla is mentioned, and not just as someone the members supported. One member referenced being a point of contact between the candidate’s actual campaign and members of the chat group.
The group suggested at some points that it was phone banking on behalf of the campaign, and others asked if anyone would be able to volunteer to help in Diaz de la Portilla’s office to help with tech support.
Diaz de la Portilla has a history of violating election laws and rules. In 2001, while running for a state legislative position, he broke election-reporting laws “several hundred times,” resulting in a fine of over $300,000. He’s also presently under investigation for using public funds to curry favor from others in the form of buying thousands of dollars worth of paellas for others to consume.