Early voting is over — or is it?



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.

Technically, Walden shouldn’t have been there at all on Sunday.

Early voting wasn’t supposed to be offered the Sunday before Election Day due to an elections law approved by Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature. They cut back early voting days after watching Barack Obama become president in 2008 thanks to Florida’s early voting.

So how was early voting offered legally Sunday? And how could Miami-Dade continue to offer it on Monday?

It isn’t technically “early voting,” that’s how. Broward and Palm Beach counties came up with the same idea Sunday, but neither experienced the problems that Miami did. (Palm Beach, though, has struggled with absentee-ballot glitches involving more than 28,000 ballots.)

Welcome to elections in Florida — home of the 2000 presidential recount — where elections aren’t easy.

There are three ways to cast a ballot before Election Day:

1) In-person ballot-casting at a super-precinct. This is “early voting” proper. There were 20 super-precincts in Miami-Dade alone.

Early voting was opened for eight days, during which 2.3 million ballots were cast in person. Democrats outvoted Republicans 46-36 percent. Scott reduced early voting days from 14 to eight, and has refused to extend the hours. If early voting continued statewide Sunday and Monday, it would eclipse the 2008 early vote. But Democrats, who hold a total 133,000 early ballot lead over the GOP, would get to increase their margins.

2) Absentee-ballot voting by mail. This has gone on for about a month. It allows people to vote from home.

More than 2 million absentee ballots have been voted. Republicans edge Democrats 43-39 percent in absentee ballots cast. About 783,000 absentee ballots that have been requested haven’t been voted or returned statewide. If all requested ballots were returned, Democrats would cut the Republicans’ 80,000 lead by 50,000. Absentee ballots must be in the election’s office headquarters by 7 p.m. Election Day.

3) In-person absentee voting. This involves requesting an absentee ballot, but then turning it in personally at the elections office headquarters. But, unlike in-person early voting, this can be done only at the headquarters office.

Obama’s campaign pioneered in-person (or “in-office”) absentee voting at the beginning of October — as a way to give people another option to cast ballots early but not have to rely on the mail system. With in-person absentee ballots, a voter must actually have the ballot inside the elections office headquarters — not his or her neighborhood precinct — by 7 p.m. Election Day.

Because early voting was so heavy Saturday — the final day of in-person early voting — Miami-Dade’s elections office decided to open its headquarters’ doors in Doral on Sunday, beginning at 1 p.m. Voters in line before 5 p.m. got to cast their ballots.

“We saw the long lines [Saturday] and the need for so many people to vote and we asked ourselves: ‘What can we do?’ So we decided to open up today [Sunday] to allow people to vote absentee in person,” Miami-Dade’s elections office spokeswoman, Christina White, said Sunday.

Miami-Dade will allow in-person absentee voting on Monday as well. You can even do it on Election Day.

The long lines and big numbers of early and absentee votes are a boon to procrastinators.

Consider: Statewide, about 4.3 million ballots have been cast already — and that’s 36 percent of registered voters and about 48 percent of likely voters.

That means that, on Election Day, your precinct could be half-empty. And every precinct in the state will be open — more than 6,000, as opposed to the fewer than 300 super-precincts during early voting.

“Election Day should be pretty smooth,” said Chris Cate, spokesman for the state’s elections division.

Cate is probably right. Election Day should be a breeze.

But then, this is Florida. Not only are the elections laws confounding, the elections can be as well.

Read more Marc Caputo stories from the Miami Herald

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