Details are emerging as to what went wrong on Election Day in Miami-Dade County, and it’s clear that Tallahassee had a lot to do with it but the county also had its major lapses.
At its first meeting on Wednesday, the county elections advisory group of 13 members focused on the long lines during early voting and on Nov. 6, as well as ensuring the integrity of absentee ballots.
County Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley outlined the challenges: Aside from a ballot, stacked with proposed state constitutional amendments, that ran from 10 to 12 pages in various jurisdictions, there was the problem of recruiting temporary poll workers to count absentee ballots.
Ms. Townsley says only 60 of the 150 workers who were hired showed up to do the job. What was their excuse?
Oh, they decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, apparently. Some said they feared they would lose their unemployment benefits for working only a few days. Others just changed their mind.
Makes one wonder where the elections office chose to recruit these so-called workers.
This cannot be tolerated ever again, and Mayor Carlos Gimenez vows it won’t. He says the advisory group’s work should produce “the best electoral process in the nation.”
Those are big words that must be followed by big actions.
Clearly, more early-voting sites should have been opened to ease the lines heading to Nov. 6. And more precincts should have been created for Election Day, but the mayor and Ms. Townsley decided it would be too confusing for voters to change precincts in a presidential election year when turnout is usually strong.
Plus, even when voters got to the front of the line, check-in at the precincts was another long wait because workers had to cross-check with printed books instead of computers.
It was especially tough this year because the state cut the number of days for early voting from 14 to eight. And Gov. Rick Scott refused to extend early voting even as the lines grew by the thousands.
Adding to the long ballots and short early-voting time was a rush for absentee ballots. The one saving grace may have been that people were able to show up at the Doral elections office on the Sunday before Nov. 6 to request an absentee ballot, fill it out and drop it off right then. (State law allows it, but this year hundreds of people took advantage of it.)
The Sunday opening caught the mayor off guard and he initially sought to close the office, because he wasn’t sure the law allowed it.
Adding to the mayhem was the state’s new requirement that counties count absentee ballots 24-7 as soon as polls closed on Election Day. Those long shifts for workers and the canvassing board, which has the last say on whether voters’ signatures are valid on absentee ballots, only heightened the anxiety and created another Flori-duh moment for Miami-Dade, along with Broward, Palm Beach and several other counties, because they took days to finish counting.
The advisory group must look at why verification is being done by eyeballs instead of technology that’s already available. But more than that, it should press the Florida Legislature to bring back the witness signature requirement that would ensure another person has vouched that the absentee voter who signed the ballot was indeed the voter on the rolls.
As it stands the elections office was overwhelmed, getting 2,000 calls a day and more than 7,500 calls on Nov. 6, mostly seeking absentee ballots. If this is the new “normal” we’re in for trouble.