The waits of up to seven hours at some Miami-Dade polls during last months presidential election occurred in part because the county failed to estimate how much time it would take to fill out 10- to 12-page ballots, did not open more early-voting sites and decided not to draw new precincts this year as planned, a report issued Wednesday concluded.
A last-minute surge in absentee ballots that overwhelmed the elections department staff, and a 12-hour Election Day breakdown of a machine that sorts the ballots also delayed the final results tally by two days, according to the departments after-action report.
Wednesdays report was the first comprehensive document outlining all of the factors that contributed to troubles in Miami-Dade. State officials, local elected leaders and county administrators have been piecing it together since the Nov. 6 election.
Some of the blame lies with Florida lawmakers, who placed 11 lengthy constitutional amendments on the ballot and cut the number of early-voting days to eight from 14.
But the 53-page report, while not providing any explicit mea culpas, also places responsibility on the countys election department, run by Mayor Carlos Gimenezs appointed elections supervisor, Penelope Townsley.
It was a combination of factors, Gimenez told The Miami Herald Wednesday evening. But I cant put the blame on any one person or one entity. The blame can go all the way around.
The report points to seven key factors that affected the election, which was budgeted to cost $11.3 million:
• The length of the ballot: The ballot ran 10 to 12 pages, largely thanks to 11 state constitutional amendments and, though the report doesnt mention them, 10 county charter questions.
• How long it took voters to fill out their ballots: While the department focused on educating voters, an estimate of the average voting time may have yielded a better gauge for managing the wait times.
• The number of early-voting sites: The state limits the sites to elections offices, city halls and public libraries. Miami-Dade could have opened more sites, but it budgeted for and stuck with its traditional 20 sites.
• Processing absentee ballots: Miami-Dade received a record number of absentee ballots including more than 55,000 on Election Day and the day before which take longer to tabulate because they require workers to verify individual signatures. There were glitches with the post office, only 60 of 150 hired seasonal workers assigned to open ballots showed up to work, and the machine that sorts ballots broke down for 12 hours beginning at 2:30 a.m. Election Day, further delaying the vote count.
• Delays at polling places: Miami-Dade checks in voters manually, using paper voter registries, on Election Day, instead of using quicker and more accurate (and more expensive) electronic registries available at early-voting sites.• Not reprecincting: Though the department had planned to draw new precincts, following once-a-decade legislative redistricting, it ultimately decided not to because the mayor and several commissioners feared new polling places would confuse voters. More than a quarter of the countys voters would have been relocated, according to the report.
An advisory group Gimenez convened proposed possible tweaks to state election laws last week, including allowing counties to open early-voting sites in more locations, extending early voting to include the Sunday before Election Day, limiting the length of constitutional amendments and allowing counties to begin tallying absentee ballots 20 days instead of 15 days before Election Day. County commissioners adopted those recommendations on Tuesday.