The first phantom absentee ballot request hit the Miami-Dade elections website at 9:11 p.m. Saturday, July 7. The next one came at 9:14. Then 9:17. 9:22. 9:24. 9:25. Within 2½ weeks, 2,552 online requests arrived from voters who had not applied for absentee ballots. They streamed in much too quickly for real people to be filling them out. They originated from only a handful of Internet Protocol addresses. And they were not random. It had all the appearances of a political dirty trick, a high-tech effort by an unknown hacker to sway three key Aug. 14 primary elections, a Miami Herald investigation has found. The plot failed. The elections department’s software flagged the requests as suspicious. The ballots weren’t sent out. But who was behind it? And next time, would a more skilled hacker be able to rig an election?
Six months and a grand-jury probe later, there still are few answers about the phantom requests, which targeted Democratic voters in a congressional district and Republican voters in two Florida House districts.
The foreman of that grand jury, whose report made public the existence of the phantom requests, said jurors were eager to learn if a candidate or political consultant had succeeded in manipulating the voting system. But they didn’t get any answers.
“We were like, ‘Why didn’t anyone do something about it?’ ” foreman Jeffrey Pankey said.
The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office could not find the hacker because most of his or her actions were masked by foreign IP addresses. But at least some of the ballot requests originated in Miami and could have been further traced, The Herald found.
Prosecutors did not obtain that information as part of their initial inquiry, due to a miscommunication with the elections department.
On Friday, a day after The Miami Herald brought the domestic IP addresses to its attention, the office of State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said it is reviewing them.