Long lines — and a long-winded ballot — made for frustrating voting delays across South Florida on Tuesday.
The worst waits, up to six hours, were in Miami-Dade County, where Mayor Carlos Gimenez showed up at a Brickell Avenue polling place to personally apologize to hundreds still waiting to cast ballots as polls closed at 7 p.m.
“I’m sorry and embarrassed,” Gimenez said. “That should not have happened. That’s something that we have to look at for the next election.”
The problems were nothing like the infamous debacle of 2000, when butterfly ballots, hanging chads and the Bush vs. Gore recount battle made “Flori-duh” a national punch-line. But Tuesday produced a fresh set of headaches in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and other parts of the state.
Elections officials largely blamed a ballot dominated by 11 state constitutional amendment questions sponsored by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature.
Just before 11 p.m., 10 percent of the precincts remained open in Miami-Dade. Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley said that she didn’t expect final totals until Wednesday afternoon.
Townsley said the ballot — “the largest in Miami-Dade County history” — contributed to the sluggish lines.
‘THIS IS A MESS’
At UTD Towers on Brickell, Gimenez promised to rush in back-up staff and optical scanners to end the voting gridlock that had left hundreds of voters waiting up to six hours to fill out the 10-page ballot. But the last few voters were still in line after 10 p.m.
Workers had trouble finding voters’ names in the registry at the polling site, which hosted two large precincts, and voters complained only two of eight ballot scanners were working at the same time.
“This is a mess,” said Alexandra Lange, a 50-year-old Brickell resident. “There is a bottleneck at the door. It is chaos.”
Brickell elections clerk Daniel Molden blamed the delays on an unexpectedly large turnout. “It’s just a lot of people,” he said. “We had trouble to start with.”
A spokeswoman for Townsley declined to say whether local officials could have done anything differently.
“We do all equipment allocations based on registered voters in a precinct,” said Christina White, deputy supervisor of elections. “We sent more voting booths, more privacy booths and more scanners [to polling places] in this election than any other.”
Elections officials installed 2,050 ballot machines in the county’s 829 precincts, packed into a total of 541 polling places. White said Townsley based those decisions on “space considerations.”
When pressed further about the delays, she said: “I think the long ballot had a lot to do with it.”
Norma Bonilla, 44, found herself in line with hundreds of people at South Kendall Community Church. Lines snaked through the church driveway and around the block, and more than 200 people who had showed up before poll-closing time were still waiting to mark ballots after 10 p.m.
“I’m going to try my best to wait,” said Bonilla, a nurse who had to be at work by 6:15a.m. Wednesday.
Bonilla said she tried to vote early on Saturday — the last day of an early-voting schedule shortened by Gov. Rick Scott — but lines were too long.