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Miami-Dade: an election of wait and wait-nots. So who's to blame?

Miami-Dade, Florida's largest county, has become a place of wait and wait-nots.

In some precincts, voters were in and out in 30 minutes. Lines stretched up to three hours in others. It all depends.

But that wasn't the case at the UTD Towers in downtown Miami where it took voters up to 6.5 hours to cast a ballot. In Hialeah, the wait was about 6 hours for some. At South Kendall Community Church, it took some voters 5 hours.

Voters reported that the problems were largely of a technical or simple nature: The ballot was too long, slowing people down. That, in turn, led people to take longer in their voting booths, leading to longer waits outside. Then, voters had to line up to feed the ballot -- 5 sheets at least -- into the ballot.

It could get worse over the next hour and 15 minutes. People are getting off work now. Many will go vote. Some might not.

"I can't wait any longer," one South Kendall voter said earlier in the day, dropping out of line. That's a lost vote for whomever.

It was worse at UTD. Poll watchers said the precinct was understaffed and poorly organized.

For one, poll workers had trouble finding voters' names in the hard-copy registry because two precincts (and six sub-precincts) were voting at one location.

And of the eight ballot scanners, only two were working, said Manuel E. Iglesias, a volunteer attorney for the Romney campaign. Only two people were able to vote at any one time, he said.

Meanwhile, the line to vote contained more than 400 people and stretched around the perimeter of the property. It took four hours to move 250 voters.

"This is the worst excuse for a precinct I've ever seen," Iglesias said.

So who's to blame?

Perhaps every level of government:

1) The Legislature. In a fit of pique, after the Florida Supreme Court, tossed legislatively designed constitutional amendments off the ballot, the lawmakers decided to print the measures in full on the ballot. And they put 10 of them on the ballot. That takes a while to get through. The Legislature also shortened early voting days in Florida to eight from 14 in 2008, when Democrats flocked to the early vote sites and secured Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

2) Gov. Rick Scott. Unlike his predecessor, Gov. Charlie Crist, Scott refused to extend the cumulative early voting hours. They're capped at 96 hours for the early voting period. In 2008, South Florida voters had 120 hours of early voting time. That's a reduction of 20 percent of early voting time in the most-populous region of the state.

3) Miami-Dade County. Officials knew the ballot was long. They knew it would take time. They knew this would be a big election. Yet they didn't have enough scanning machines in some precincts or enough voting booths to handle the volume or both.

This doesn't mean the entire election is a fiasco. But it is for those who decided to actually vote on Election Day, only to lose hours of their lives to long lines that were made by government action or inaction.

Yes, people could have cast absentee ballots. More than 2.1 million did in Florida. But dozens (and perhaps more) reported requesting ballots but never receiving them. Or they received them late. It seems that, whether it's absentee ballots or early voting or Election Day voting, the combined forces of this presidential election are straining aspects of the voting system.

--- with Kathleen McGrory

Comments

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Henri

Put the blame where it belongs, on the county elections department.

Florida has eight days of early voting. That's more than generous, considering there are plenty of states that have no early voting, including nearly all of the states in the liberal northeastern U.S.

Miami-Dade county could have opened as many early voting sites as it desired. The county chose to limit the number of early voting sites to only 20, not the state.

Carrie

I think people are looking at this too superficially saying its simply a long ballot. Did any of these people actually try to vote in Miami? They spend 5 minutes looking you up in a notebook (hello, 1982, nice to see you again), send you across the room to another table that spends another five minutes looking you up then mumbles something incoherent and shoves a giant packet in your hand while vaguely waving you toward a line of booths (back across the room). Arriving there, you find no pens, walk back across to the sign-in tables, get yelled at for not waiting in line again and not having a pen, then wander around until another voter gives you one. After finally filling in your ballot, you find you way to illogically-placed scanners, where you wait in line before being told you're in the scanner line for the OTHER precinct that's voting in the same location, so you have to go - wait for it... back across the room - to the other set of scanners. If your lucky (I'm like a walking four leaf clover), the scanner will jam and the volunteers will tell you they're not sure if your vote went through or not. Then you'll wander around looking for someone to take your final vote card, like the instructions say (don't be ridiculous and think there will be signs for this, or that the first three volunteers you ask will have any idea what you're talking about).

Forget the ammendments, this process made third world country elections look progressive. I'm amazed anyone thought this process wouldn't take hours now that I've gone through it.

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