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11 posts from November 4, 2012

November 04, 2012

The complications and absurdities of elections in Miami, Florida

Get a ballot. Cast a ballot. Easy, right?

Not in Miami. Not in Florida.

Consider what happened Sunday when Miami-Dade’s elections office, to serve the tens of thousands of people who wanted to vote early, decided to open its Doral headquarters office to allow for more in-person early voters.

That’s when good intentions paved a pathway to public-relations hell.

There weren’t enough functioning printers at the headquarters. There weren’t enough workers. And there were too many voters, about 180, who showed up when the voting was unexpectedly offered as a bonus.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez wasn’t told, either.

So then the office shut down voting, partly due to Gimenez, and tried to turn people away. One woman, among the throngs who had illegally parked due to the tight conditions, found that her car had been towed — one of two hauled away from the lot.

Then someone scrounged up a printer and someone told Gimenez, a Republican, how utterly foolish it would be to turn away voters. Voting was then allowed to proceed more than an hour later.

“We went through a lot to actually vote,” said Justin Walden, 18.

Continue reading "The complications and absurdities of elections in Miami, Florida " »

The story behind the story: How an attempt to let more people to vote early in Miami-Dade turned into a debacle

What began Sunday morning as an attempt by the Miami-Dade elections department to let more people early vote devolved into chaos and confusion only days before the nation decides its next president.

Call it the debacle in Doral.

Elections officials, overwhelmed with voters, locked the doors to its Doral headquarters and temporarily shut down the operation, angering nearly 200 voters standing in line outside — only to resume the proceedings an hour later.

On the surface, officials blamed technical equipment and a lack of staff for the shutdown. But behind the scenes, there was another issue: Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

The Republican had never signed off on the additional in-person absentee voting hours in the first place.

“That was counter to what I said on Friday, which was we were not going to change the game mid-stream,” he said. “I said, ‘No, there’s no way we did this.’”

But Gimenez, who is in a nonpartisan post, quickly realized it was better to let the voting go on, and the voting resumed.

The mayor said he found out early Sunday afternoon — from his daughter-in-law — about the extra voting hours.

The move had been approved by Deputy Mayor Alina Hudak at the request of Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley. The plan was simple: Allow voters to request, fill out and return absentee ballots in person for four hours Sunday afternoon.

Early voting the Sunday before Election Day used to be allowed. But it was eliminated by the GOP-controlled state Legislature and Republican Gov. Rick Scott last year after Barack Obama used early voting to help him win Florida in 2008 — and therefore the presidency.

Gimenez said his initial reaction was to stop the last-minute Sunday voting.

But by then, around 180 people stood in line outside the elections office at 2700 NW 87th Ave. They shouted “Let us vote!” and banged on the locked glass doors. More here.

Crist says Scott's refusal to extend early voting is 'unconscionable'

Crist on CBSBefore former Gov. Charlie Crist rallied the crowd at President Barack Obama’s final Florida rally on Sunday, he made a guest appearance on CBS4’s Facing South Florida with Jim Defede and did some politicking of his own.

Crist covered the famous hug that first got him in trouble with Republicans, the “unconscionable” decision by Gov. Rick Scott not to extend early voting hours, and his future political plans.

Crist laughed when Defede said his first encounter with Obama was a “hug heard around the world” and recalled how he also
“got a lot of grief from Republicans” when he extended early voting hours in 2008.

“But when you’re governor, you don’t just work for one party or the other you work for the people of the state,’’ Crist said. “I saw the long lines. I saw it was still hot in South Florida, that a lot of senior citizens were waiting in those lines, and I realized it was an emergency situation and people needed to have the opportunity to vote.

“The same thing happened under Gov. Jeb Bush and he extended early voting as well,’’ he said.

Continue reading "Crist says Scott's refusal to extend early voting is 'unconscionable'" »

The swing voters of the swing state. What do independents think?

They are the swing voters of the ultimate swing state.

Florida’s independent voters are either too conservative for the Republican Party, too liberal for the Democrats — or too, well, independent for either. They are all over the political map — an apt reflection of Florida, a state with a little bit of everywhere else.

But ultimately, they’ll cast the deciding votes that guarantee President Barack Obama a second term or help Mitt Romney unseat him.

Public-opinion surveys have swung left and right with the mood of independents. But they’re starting to settle on Romney.

A Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald/Tampa Bay Times survey found Romney winning 49-43 among independents.

An unscientific Miami Herald email survey of 2,051 registered no-party-affiliation voters who cast absentee ballots found they favored Obama 51-44 percent.

Continue reading "The swing voters of the swing state. What do independents think?" »

Crist rallies a packed stadium in pro-Obama chant 'this guy's got our back'

Crist and ObamaFormer Gov. Charlie Crist, president Barack Obama’s most unexpected cheerleader in Florida this election cycle, rallied a crowd of 23,000 at the McArthur High School Football Field in Hollywood with a verbal hug that mirrored the physical one that got him in trouble with his former party. 

“Hello Broward!,’’ Crist exclaimed. “Are you fired up? Ready to go? I love Barack Obama.”

Crist, who left the Republican Party in the midst of the primary for U.S. Senate in 2010, was excoriated by Republicans for welcoming the president at an event in Fort Myers in 2009, symbolically embracing the federal stimulus money coming to Florida.  

Crist recalled the moment in his speech to the crowd before Obama arrived and used the message to revive some classic Crist themes: bi-partisan cooperation.

“The president came here to help us,’’ he said. “One man got it done. President Barack Obama.”

Continue reading "Crist rallies a packed stadium in pro-Obama chant 'this guy's got our back'" »

UPDATED Miami-Dade resumes in-person absentee voting after temporary shutdown

An attempt by the Miami-Dade elections department to let more people vote early Sunday devolved into chaos after the department was overwhelmed with voters.

The department locked its doors about an hour into the four-hour operation without explanation, then said it would resume allowing voters to request and cast absentee ballots in person. Miami-Dade had opened its Doral headquarters from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. as a work-around to a provision in state law that eliminated early voting the Sunday before Election Day.

Anyone in line by 5 p.m. at the Doral elections headquarters at 2700 NW 87th Ave. will be allowed to vote, department spokeswoman Christina White said at 3 p.m. The department brought in a second ballot printer and more staffers to re-open.

Shortly before the temporary shutdown an hour earlier, the department had said it would not be able to accommodate more than the around 180 voters who were in line by 2 p.m. Then the office shut its doors, and people in line started shouting, “Let us vote!”

Some voters who had parked in a lot across the street saw their cars getting towed.

“This is America, not a third-world country,” said Myrna Peralta, who waited in line with her 4-year-old grandson for nearly two hours before being turned away. “They should have been prepared.”

“My beautiful Sunshine State,” she lamented. “They’re not letting people vote.”

When it opened its doors, the department had only one ballot-printing machine, five voting booths and two staffers to assist voters. The office said it was overwhelmed by voters.

“We had the best of intentions to provide this service today,” White had said. “We just can’t accommodate it to the degree that we would like to.”

Miami-Dade had announced Sunday morning that it would allow voters to request, fill out and turn in absentee ballots on the spot for four hours in the afternoon after the Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit in the wee hours seeking to somehow extend voting in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties before Election Day.

Developing story here.

4.3 million Florida early ballots in, Dems extend lead over GOP to 133,000 pre-Election Day votes

More than 4.3 million Florida votes are already in before Election Day and Democrats used the last full official day of in-person early voting to extend their lead over Republican ballots cast by 133,000, according to this morning's figures.

In all, about 36 percent of registered voters have cast ballots and about 48 of likely voters have.

That means wait times at polling stations on Election Day will be much shorter than the early vote wait times that have plagued South Florida for the past eight days. Tens of thousands of more early votes, by way of absentee ballots, are still flowing in and a few thousand (but not tens of thousands) more will come by way of in-person absentee ballots cast at some election supervisors' offices in select counties, such as Miami Dade (more here on that).

Early voting was shortened in 2012 compared to 2008, and the numbers are smaller.

According to George Mason University's United States Elections Project (which tracks early voting) about 2.6 million in-person early votes were cast in 2008 over 14 days in Florida. This year, after the GOP-led Legislature and Republican Gov. Rick Scott cut the days to eight, it's 2.3 million. But absentee ballot voting is stronger. In 2008, 1.7 million cast absentee ballots and this year the number is 2 million.

Guess which type of voting Republicans specialize in? Absentee ballots. Democrats do better at in-person early voting. Though more fraud-prone, absentee ballot voting wasn't touched in the election law Scott signed that shortened early voting days.

In all, Republicans have cast 87,000 more absentee ballots than Democrats. Democrats have cast 220,000 more in-person early votes.

Using the GMU numbers (and there are other numbers that differ from them), Democrats had a cumulative lead as high as 363,000 ballots in 2008, or about 8 percentage points. Now, that Democrat lead has been cut to 3 points, or 133,000 -- and not just because of the shortened early voting period.

There's a sense of diminished Democratic enthusiasm for the president compared to 2008. And the Democrats actually lost more voters between 2008 and 2012 than Republicans and the Democratic Party grew at a slower pace (this was before Scott's voter bill was signed in 2011). Our latest analysis of those 2008 voters who remain on the rolls now shows the Democrat early ballot/pre-Election Day lead would be only 282,000 if the presidential election four years ago were held with the current electorate.

Also of note: a Miami Herald poll indicated Romney gets more crossover votes than Obama and is winning the early vote anyway.

Here are today's numbers for early votes:

Party             EV total            %
DEM          1,052,061 46%
REP             831,456 36%
IND             414,889 18%
Total          2,298,406

Absentee votes:

Party            AB Total             %
REP             871,239 43%
DEM             784,117 39%
IND             355,824 18%
Total          2,011,180

Cumulative EVAB totals

Party          EVAB total            %
DEM          1,836,178 43%
REP          1,702,695 40%
IND             770,713 18%
Total          4,309,586

For other posts on the EVAB numbers and voting issues, click here

Miami-Dade will allow in-person absentee voting at its election headquarters Sunday

In a work-around to an early-voting crackdown law, the Miami-Dade elections headquarters will open Sunday afternoon to allow voters to request and cast absentee ballots in person.

The elections department announced the change Sunday morning, after the Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit in the wee hours seeking to somehow extend voting in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties before Election Day.

A spokeswoman said the department made the decision Saturday night after seeing such long early voting lines — the last voter wasn’t checked in until 1 a.m. Voters in line at 7 p.m. Saturday were allowed to vote.

A loophole in a state law that eliminated early voting the Sunday before Election Day allows elections supervisors to accept in-person absentee ballots through 7 p.m. Tuesday — including Sunday, at the elections supervisor’s discretion.

The elections department had planned to open Sunday for voters to drop off absentee ballots. The change: The office will now open between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to also allow voters who had not previously requested an absentee ballot to do so in person, fill them out on the spot and turn them in. Anyone still in line by 5 p.m will be allowed to cast their ballot. The office is located at 2700 NW 87th Ave., Doral.

The Palm Beach elections supervisor announced Sunday morning that the county would also allow in-person absentee voting.

Broward did not follow suit. Its main and satellite offices will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday only to accept absentee ballots from voters who had already received them. The offices will not allow voters to request and fill out new absentee ballots — though voters can call 954-712-1964 and 954-712-1974 on Sunday to request to pick up an absentee ballot on Monday at the satellite office.

Broward’s main office is located at 115 S. Andrews Ave., Room 103, Fort Lauderdale. The satellite office is located at 1501 NW 40th Ave. (N. State Rd. 7/441), Lauderhill.

Broward elections spokeswoman Evelyn Perez-Verdia said shortly before noon Sunday that many voters were coming in to drop off absentee ballots. “They are coming in by the thousands,” she said.

Voters across the state can request and cast absentee ballots in person Monday.More here.

Florida Democratic Party sues in Miami federal court to 'extend voting opportunities'

The Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit in the wee hours of Sunday morning seeking to somehow extend voting before Election Day.

The lawsuit, filed in Miami federal court, argues that an emergency judge's order is necessary to "extend voting opportunities" before Tuesday, including allowing voters to cast absentee ballots in person at supervisor of elections' offices -- something already allowed under state law. Voters can turn in their ballots through 7 p.m. Tuesday. 

In Miami-Dade, voters can request an absentee ballot in person, and turn it in, between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday, and between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday at the elections headquarters at 2700 NW 87th Ave., Doral.

It's unclear exactly what more a court could do at this point. The lawsuit does not ask the court to order all early-voting sites to re-open.

An attorney for the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections' office, one of the parties sued in the case, filed a motion responding to the lawsuit saying the case is moot to the county because it already allows for in-person absentee voting.

According to the lawsuit, "inadequate polling facilities" in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties led to lines in some cases between six and seven hours long -- longer than elsewhere in the state, the lawsuit says.

"The extraordinarily long lines deterred or prevented voters from waiting to vote. Some voters left the polling sites upon learning of the expected wait, and others refused to line up altogether," the lawsuit says. "These long lines and extreme delays unduly and unjustifiably burdened the right to vote."

The lawsuit cites requests made to Gov. Rick Scott to extend voting hours by executive authority. Scott said Thursday night he would not extend the hours, following requests from Democrats and Democratic-leaning groups.

Continue reading "Florida Democratic Party sues in Miami federal court to 'extend voting opportunities'" »

Final day of early voting goes late into the night in Miami-Dade, Broward

The scores of early voters who showed up at the polls shortly after sunrise Saturday, determined to beat the crowds, were counting on other people sleeping in.

They didn’t.

When 37 polling sites in Miami-Dade and Broward counties opened at 7 a.m. on the last day of early voting, two had five-hour waits. The wait was four hours or longer at three other sites.

And the waits only got longer.

Voters in line by the time closed at 7 p.m. were allowed to vote. At 6:42 p.m., the Miami-Dade elections department estimated that a half a dozen sites had six-hour lines. On Friday, the Miami-Dade voters had stayed open until 11 p.m.

At the Miramar Library on Saturday night, 56-year-old Dan Whiting said he thought the line would shrink as the day grew older.

He was wrong. He arrived at around 6:30 p.m. and his expected wait time was four to five hours. The line had about 550 people.

“This is a new experience for me,” said Whiting, a lifelong Republican who recently returned to Florida after living in New England. He works for a defense contractor, “so I have to vote Republican,” he joked.

He said he drove by the library four times Saturday thinking the line would be shorter until he finally gave in.

Verdieu Lucas, 53, of Pembroke Pines, was near the end of the line shortly before 7 p.m., and vowed to stay no matter the wait.

Three hours and 40 minutes later, Lucas, a Democrat, walked out of the Miramar Library having completed his ballot, including a vote for President Barack Obama.

Lucas said he decided to early vote after he requested — but never received — an absentee ballot from elections officials.

“I work and did not want to take the risk and miss the chance to vote on Tuesday,” said Lucas, who said he saw nobody leave the early vote line late Saturday night.

When Guy Lacombe arrived at the West Kendall Regional Library — around 6:50 a.m., he said — he figured he would vote quickly and pick up breakfast to bring back to his wife and three children.

He was still in line shortly before noon. More here.