Over the past few weeks, more than 800,000 Miami-Dade County residents participated in the 2012 presidential election and exercised their right to vote. That high turnout is a heartening sign that the nation our Founding Fathers envisioned over 200 years ago — one built on a healthy democracy and an engaged citizenry — is as vibrant as ever.
But while our democracy continues to thrive, it’s clear that the process of casting our votes is in need of improvement. The news images of long lines at polling places and voters waiting to cast their ballots well into the night during early voting and on Election Day are unacceptable. As mayor, I am ultimately responsible for ensuring that county government delivers nothing less than the very best to its taxpaying patrons, and facilitating residents’ right to vote through our Elections Department is at the top of my list. Despite the difficulties, voters can rest assured that their votes were accurately counted and that the sanctity of the process was preserved.
To be sure, this year’s election in Miami-Dade County posed some unprecedented challenges. First, this was the longest ballot in county history — most voters faced a 10-page ballot. And while the list of constitutional smendments, charter questions and other decisions to be made was extraordinarily long, the state-mandated voting period was extraordinarily short, cut nearly in half from the previous standard of 14 days to just eight. That combination — long ballots and a curtailed voting period — certainly didn’t help matters.
But despite the challenging circumstances, the bottom line is that we must be better prepared in the future. Now is the time to for us to take stock of what we did right and what needs to improve, take appropriate action and move forward. To that end, I have already begun to assemble an Election Advisory Group. Led by myself and Commissioners Dennis Moss, Sally Heyman, Lynda Bell and Rebeca Sosa, the Advisory Group will bring together community leaders who represent the concerns of our diverse community to determine how to improve our elections process.
This Advisory Group, whose meetings will be open to the public, will conduct a precinct-by-precinct review of our voting sites to assess what worked well, as well as those areas and processes that need improvement. In addition to providing recommendations concerning the Elections Department, the Advisory Group will make recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners to improve the early voting process for future elections, including changes to state law tht will be conveyed to the governor and Legislature.
Even as we prepare to delve into the details of our elections operations, residents can be assured that I am already firmly committed to asking the governor and Legislature to reintroduce the standard 14-day early voting period for the next presidential election. I’m also committed to opening more early-voting sites throughout the county, so that whether the state continues to mandate a shortened early voting period or not, our residents will have ample opportunities to comfortably and efficiently cast their votes early. It’s a common sense move, and it will happen.
Ultimately, having the freedom to choose our leaders and shape our country’s shared future with ease and confidence is what makes the United States of America the greatest nation in the world. Miami-Dade County must do its part by providing an elections process that our entire community can be proud of. It’s what our Founding Fathers envisioned, it’s what our residents expect and deserve and it’s what I promise to deliver.
Carlos Gimenez is Miami-Dade County mayor.