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.
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.
“I almost left,” said Lacombe, a 47-year-old engineer. “I don’t know why I stayed.”
Maybe it was because he had tried to vote by mail while he was away on a business trip, but his absentee ballot only arrived at his hotel after he had left. He wasn’t sure the envelope would make it to Miami by Tuesday.
And it may have helped that he became buddies with three other men standing in line. One of them, Ernest Pacheco, a 42-year-old contractor, peeled away to bring coffee and pastelitos — and then did not want to let the others pay him back.
The men passed the hours chatting. Candidates — U.S. Rep. David Rivera and his challenger, Joe Garcia; Miami-Dade commission rivals Manny Machado and Juan C. Zapata; Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, campaigning for a construction bond issue — walked up and down the line, shaking hands.
“My wife is asking me why I haven’t played Words with Friends” on his cell phone, said Ron Fillous, 52, an accountant. “I said, ‘Because I made new friends.’”
They found political common ground. They teased Lacombe for looking like the candidate he planned to vote for, Obama. (Smaller ears, Fillous noted.) Jose Del Rosario, a 54-year-old accountant, criticized Mitt Romney’s shifting positions on issues. They bemoaned that Gov. Rick Scott did not extend early voting into Sunday.