Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Don’t fritter away Dolphins’ funds

Anyone who remembers the interminable lines at the polls last November, the near-riot at Miami-Dade County’s elections department as crowds tried to drop off absentee ballots, the jokes that made Florida the nation’s goat — again — can’t fail to see the need to improve the voting process.

Even the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott, whose politically shortsighted — and politically motivated — actions put Florida into that bind provided legislative fixes this year. Miami-Dade commissioners would be foolish to do any less.

The county has about $2.3 million burning a hole in its pocket, the result of the election that never was. When the Miami Dolphins agreed to fund the special election, hoping county voters would approve using the hotel bed tax to glitz up Sun Life Stadium, the team also agreed that the money would be nonrefundable if the election didn’t happen.

Well, the election didn’t happen, even though early voting had already started. The Legislature, which had to approve the ballot measure, never brought it to the floor. The county spent only about half of the $4.78 million on early voting, leaving a little windfall.

And everyone’s got their hand out. Commissioner Barbara Jordan wants to use the money to give low-interest loans to local small businesses. Commissioner Juan Zapata wants to divvy it up among the commissioners to spread around their districts like fertilizer — hoping to make some goodwill sprout — especially at election time, no?

Economic development is important to this community’s vitality. But there already are revenue streams — federal, state and local — for such endeavors. Plus, residents countywide should see some real and tangible results from the expenditure.

County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has a better idea, one that says the county is taking seriously the obstacles to voting and is committed to removing them for everyone who wants to cast a ballot. The mayor recommends using the $2.3 million to purchase new voting equipment and technology to help pay for $7.2 million in proposed improvements at the elections department.

This is but one of the practical recommendations to come out of the Elections Advisory Group, which Mr. Gimenez convened, and led, after the debacle of the 2012 presidential election. The goal is to make the wait to vote no longer than one hour, even on days of heavy voting.

It is a laudable goal that would go a long way toward ensuring that everyone who wants to vote can, and that no one’s vote is going to end up irrelevant, as so unfortunately happened last November. The mayor said: “Rather than issue debt for these purchases, I believe it is in the county’s best interest to use the remaining funding to acquire the recommended necessary equipment.”

He’s right, and he has the support of County Commission Chair Rebeca Sosa. Plus, following through on the task force’s recommendations will build upon the state’s own efforts to make voting an easy task. Last month, Gov. Scott signed a law that restores early voting to a mandatory 64 hours over eight days and up to 168 hours over 14 days; gives the 67 county supervisors of elections the discretion to schedule early voting on the Sunday before the election; and expands the types of locations used for early voting.

Lawmakers and the governor heard Floridians’ complaints — and the jokes — loud and clear. So should Miami-Dade County commissioners.

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