Alarmed by the long lines for early voting, Norma Bonilla decided to cast her ballot instead on Election Day, arriving just before closing time at the South Kendall Community Church in the Country Walk neighborhood.
“I said, ‘Forget it, I’m not going to waste my Saturday,’ ” Bonilla, a 44-year-old nurse, said as she stood in line to vote on the evening of Nov. 6. “Now I just hope I’m not here longer than an hour and a half.”
But Bonilla, like thousands of others, waited much longer than that. Her precinct was one of the largest voting stations in Miami-Dade, and one of the most log-jammed. Voters there waited five hours or more to cast their ballots.
Voters faced similarly slow lines in at least 50 polling stations around Miami-Dade — far more than publicly acknowledged by county officials in the wake of the election, a Miami Herald analysis of Election Day voting has found. These delays contributed to Florida’s renewed reputation as the state that couldn’t count straight, with the final results in the presidential race tabulated four days after every other state in the union.
This time, the problems weren’t with hanging chads — the culprits in the notorious 2000 presidential election — unreliable counts, or fears about paperless electronic voting. Instead, the hang-up was primarily herding throngs of voters through their precincts as they faced an extraordinarily time-consuming ballot.
Why so many delays in Miami-Dade? The reasons were numerous, but the longest waits came in large precincts with more than 1,000 voters, many of whom arrived after work. Put simply, the voter bottlenecks overwhelmed even the most well-equipped precincts. Most of the problems were in polling sites in Kendall, other southwestern suburbs and West Miami-Dade — areas with a spike in both residents and voters in recent years.
Other wild cards in the equation: the deployment and competence of poll workers hired for Election Day.
Elections officials acknowledged there were voting delays, but maintained that they were limited to a few areas. In the days after the election, county officials said as few as a half-dozen of the county’s 541 polling locations suffered unreasonable delays.
But records show that 51 voting sites stayed open at least four hours after the 7 p.m. voting deadline.
Christina White, the deputy supervisor of elections, cautioned that the time a precinct closed did not indicate how long voters had to wait past the 7 p.m. deadline; poll workers took 45 minutes to two hours to break down a precinct and double-check machine tallies. However, many of the stations that closed after 11 p.m. were the same locations where voters waited for several hours to cast their ballots.
Election officials said they expected a large turnout on Election Day, and they thought they had enough ballot scanners, voting booths and poll workers to deal with the crowds, which they planned for based on turnout in 2008.
But The Miami Herald’s analysis found that many of the polling places with the most machines and voting booths also had the longest delays.
The biggest problem, local election officials said, was the lengthy ballot, which included several laborious constitutional amendments offered by the Florida Legislature. In Miami-Dade, the ballot ran 10 to 12 pages long.