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 their 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.
“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 the doors closed. “They should have been prepared.”
“My beautiful Sunshine State,” she lamented. “They’re not letting people vote.”
Minutes earlier, a department spokeswoman had said the office did not have enough resources — only one ballot printer, five voting booths and two staffers — to handle the throng of voters and would begin turning new voters away.
“We had the best of intentions to provide this service today,” spokeswoman Christina White had said. “We just can’t accommodate it to the degree that we would like to.”
Calvin Sweeting, a 59-year-old from Opa-locka, was told he would be the last person to vote.
“They said I was the lucky one,” he said, shrugging. “It didn’t seem fair to me.”
Or to Jean Marcellus, 52, who stood behind him.
“This is ridiculous,” Marcellus shouted, holding up the ticket he was given to secure his place in the queue. “I’m the next one!”
Nearly all the voters stayed in line until a campaign worker reported her car had been towed from a private parking lot across the street. Scores of people ducked out of the line to check on their own cars. A second car had been towed.