Behind closed doors were back-and-forth phone calls among the department, the county attorney’s office and the mayor, who eventually decided to let the people outside the elections department vote. Democrats also unleashed a torrent of phone calls to reporters and the county.
“I’m upset at this change, but at the end, when you have 200, 300 voters out there ready to go, you really can’t disenfranchise them,” Gimenez said. Of the whole situation, he added: “I’m certainly embarrassed.”
The elections office reopened its doors at 3 p.m., after being closed for about an hour, apologizing and announcing that it had added a ballot-printing machine and more poll workers and would remain open until all voters in line at 5 p.m. had cast their in-person absentee ballots.
The crowd cheered. Around 400 people stood in line at 5 p.m. Campaign workers passed out bottled water and granola bars.
Despite lines up to seven hours long at times during eight days of early voting, Gimenez had decided late last week not to ask Gov. Scott to extend early-voting hours in Miami-Dade. The last early-voting polls officially closed at 7 p.m. Saturday, but they remained open until the last voter in line checked in with a poll worker — about 1 a.m. Sunday.
Gimenez defended his decision Sunday to refrain from asking the governor for more early-voting hours.
“We all knew what the rules were. When you start doing things like that, you’re opening to criticism of favoring one side or the other,” he said. “All of us knew it was going to be eight days of early voting. It was going to end on Saturday. There is going to be hundred of polling places [open] on Tuesday.”
The county did add poll workers, machines and voting booths to early-voting sites to alleviate some wait times.
On Sunday, Gimenez said he was angrier at Hudak, his deputy, than at Townsley, the elections supervisor.
“I’m going to have to deal with this internally,” he said. “I’m not saying somebody’s going to be lose their job, but somebody made a poor error in judgment that’s not really helping the community.”
Hudak told Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 that she approved the decision, which at the time she did not see as a major policy shift.
“I apologized to the mayor,” she said. “I should have told him. I made a bad call.”
Gimenez said the elections department wanted to offer more hours of in-person absentee voting in part because some voters had yet to receive ballots the county had mailed them due to a post-office glitch.
Opening the elections office from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. was a work-around to a provision in the state law that eliminated early voting the Sunday before Election Day. The Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit in the wee hours of Sunday morning seeking to somehow extend voting in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties before Tuesday.
The law allows elections supervisors to accept in-person absentee ballots through 7 p.m. Tuesday — including Sunday, at the elections supervisor’s discretion. As of Friday, Miami-Dade and Broward had planned to open Sunday only for voters to drop off absentee ballots.
Miami-Dade switched gears to also let voters ask for a ballot and fill it out on the spot. Palm Beach and two Tampa Bay-area counties, Hillsborough and Pinellas, did the same.