Miami-Dade will not have full results until Wednesday

A number of polling stations were dogged by long lines Tuesday, as voters waited past midnight to cast their ballots.

11/06/2012 6:58 AM

11/07/2012 1:37 AM

Miami-Dade will not report full election results until Wednesday, election supervisors said Tuesday night, as dozens of polls remained open four hours after closing time.

Lines were so long in some polling places, that the last voter did not leave the West Kendall Regional Libary until a few minutes after 1 A.M. At 10:50 p.m., 90 percent of the precincts had closed in Miami-Dade. That meant that at least 80 precincts were still plagued by lines four hours after the polls closed, as people waited six hours or longer to cast their ballots.

Adding to the local election woes were the 18,000 absentee ballots that came in on Tuesday. Those had yet to be processed and were not expected to be counted until Wednesday, according to Deputy Supervisor Christina White.

The ballot was "the largest in Miami-Dade county history, and that has contributed to the length of time it has taken,” said Miami-Dade Election Supervisor Penelope Townsley. "We will continue the count through the night and have a total sometime tomorrow.''

When polls officially closed at 7 p.m. hundreds of people were still waiting to cast ballots in precincts around South Florida, in an election that was marked by long lines and the occasional snafu. Even after the networks called the race for President Obama, people in South Florida remained in line.

From Hialeah to Country Walk and Brickell, people waited as long as seven hours to vote. In Broward County, voting at some precincts came to a halt when the ballots ran out. At the South Kendall Community Church, 1,000 people were in line at closing time, and at least 200 remained three hours later.

At Ronald Reagan High School in Doral, the doors closed with some 300 people still in line. By law, any voter who arrived before 7 p.m. is allowed to cast a ballot.

Many voters throughout the day said they waited hours and gave up.

The scene was repeated at Country Walk and the West Kendall Regional Library, where staggering numbers of people waited hours to cast ballots. Jesse J. McCrary Elementary School had a three-hour wait and no bathrooms, while voters in Goulds experienced a five-hour wait, according to a memo sent to elections supervisors highlighting the trouble spots.

A spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Office blamed the 10-page ballot for the long lines and voter delays, but declined to say whether local officials could have done anything differently. She insisted that more poll equipment and workers were dispatched Tuesday than in 2008, and added that some locations were limited by space constraints.

But voters complained that many stations lacked enough poll workers, scanning machines and privacy booths to address the crowds. Dozens of workers were diverted from closed polling places to others that faced daunting queues, and 150 extra optical scanners were distributed throughout the day.

“We do all equipment allocations based on registered voters in a precinct,” said Christina White, deputy supervisor of elections. “We sent more voting booths, more privacy booths and more scanners [to polling places] in this election than any other.”

State election officials said the turnout was on track to break Florida records. And with a shorter early voting period this year, experts said the combination proved problematic for some precincts.

South Kendall Community Church

When the polls closed at 7 p.m., about 1,000 people were still in line at South Kendall Community Church. Some three hours later, a few hundred still remained.

The church was one of about 10 high priority problem areas Obama campaign poll watchers warned the Department of Elections about. A memo to the county warned of places with no bathrooms, broken machines, or -- like South Kendall -- lots and lots of people.

Voter Norma Bonilla, 44, got in line at 6:45 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., she was still hundreds of people away from voting at South Kendall Community Church, at 16550 Southwest 147th Avenue, where the line snaked through the church driveway and out around the block.

"I'm going to try my best to wait," said Bonilla, a nurse who has to be at work by 6:15 a.m. on Wednesday.

Bonilla was told the wait could take up to four hours.

She tried to vote early on Saturday, but decided to come back on Tuesday because the line was too long.

"I said, 'Forget it, I'm not going to waste my Saturday,'" she said. "Now I just hope I'm not here longer than an hour and a half."

At the end of the line at the South Kendall Community Church, Andre Murias says he would wait as long as it took.

The 18-year-old first time voter got in line at exactly 7 p.m.

"We were surprised that it went around the neighborhood," Murias said of the long line.

Julian Montero, a poll watcher for the Obama campaign, was at the church since 6 a.m. He said he did six separate counts throughout the day and saw about 120 people get through per hour.

There were about 140 people in line as of 10:50 with about a 45 minute to hour long wait left to go.

ABSENTEE VOTING ENDS

Citing state law, Miami-Dade elections shut off absentee balloting a little after 7 p.m. tonight at the division’s headquarters in Doral. That followed a frantic scramble by poll workers to check in as many absentee ballots as they could from voters who were dropping them off.

"Run, lady!" one poll worker yelled at a woman of a certain age taking her time toward the front doors.

Election law requires all absentee ballots be in by seven, no matter if a voter happens to be waiting in line to drop it off. Throughout Tuesday, people went to election headquarters to pick up absentee ballots, fill them out, then drop them off. But for those who arrived after 6:30 pm Tuesday, time ran out before they got their ballots. About 30 people were turned away.

“I am so upset. You have no idea,” said a teary Linda Florez, 29. She works at a Doral bank but lives in Miami Lakes. She said she called the elections office, and that whoever answered the phone said she could get a ballot as long as she was in line by the time polls closed at 7.

Not true.

Voters at their precincts can vote if they arrive by 7, no matter how long it takes. But absentee ballots must be in by 7, election officials said.

Before the cut-off, Flores said from her spot in line that she wanted to vote so she wouldn’t be "one of those people" who criticize without participating.

"I don’t want to be the one who is talking about the next president, and not to have cast a vote," she said.

The Miami-Dade Elections Department posted results for the absentee ballots that arrived prior to Tuesday. Among those absentee ballots already counted, Obama was winning by a wide margin.

LONGEST LINE EVER

The wait at the UTD Tower in Brickell exceeded six hours throughout the day. Even voters who arrived before the polls opened at 7 a.m. found themselves stuck in a seemingly endless line. At closing time, hundreds remained to cast their ballots.

Poll watchers said the precinct was understaffed and poorly organized.

For one, poll workers had trouble finding voters’ names in the hard-copy registry because two precincts (and six sub-precincts) were voting at one location.

“This is the worst excuse for a precinct I’ve ever seen,’’ said Manuel E. Iglesias, a volunteer attorney for the Romney campaign.

Of the eight ballot scanners, only two were working. Only two people were able to vote at any one time, he said.

Alexandra Lange, a 50-year-old Brickell resident, waited more than six hours to fill our her ballot. She left the polling place irate.

“This is a mess,’’ she said. “There is a bottleneck at the door. It is chaos.’’

Seline Paulino, 23, said the poll workers mistakenly thought she requested an absentee ballot. That cost her even more time.

“The woman was trying to help me, but she was dealing with like five other people whose names weren’t in the book,’’ Paulino said. “She was clearly overwhelmed.’’

At about 7 p.m., Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez showed up to apologize to throngs of exhausted voters. He promised to bring in additional poll workers from closed polling sites. A dozen were dispatched after hours.

"I’m not happy with what’s going on in Brickell," he said. "The people are upset, and I don’t blame them. I told them I was sorry.

"I’m sorry and embarrassed."

Gimenez said there were too many precincts voting at the UTD Towers, which needs to be addressed before the next election.

Brickell elections clerk Daniel Molden blamed the delays on the unexpectedly large turnout.

"It’s just a lot of people," Molden said, noting that voters began forming a line around 5:30 a.m. "We had trouble to start with."

Molden denied that there had been problems with the scanners that accept ballots. But a Herald reporter who voted at the precinct waited 30 minutes beside the scanner, which jammed each time a ballot sheet was fed into it. And a poll worker there said the scanners had been jamming intermittently.

But the wait wasn’t what upset some voters the most.

"They are out of stickers?" Zachary Ward, 24, lamented after waiting more than six hours to vote. "Not cool. Not cool."

TURNOUT MIGHT BE RECORD, 2:30 p.m.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said Tuesday that Florida voters could set a state record for the number of ballots cast in an election.

He said with 4.5 million voters casting ballots early, turnout may have reached half before the polls opened on Election Day.

“I don’t have any projections to make except that, one, we’ll probably have a record setting year in terms of turnout,” Detzner said. “Early voting was very enthusiastic by people, as you know, and we’re delighted that perhaps even as many as 50 percent of the people might have voted early.”

SMOOTHER SAILING, CUPCAKES IN BROWARD

Mid-day voters at two precinct locations near City Hall in Lighthouse Point faced short waits outside. Residents were able to cast their ballots within about 30 minutes after arriving.

At the Pompano Beach Civic Center, there were about two dozen voters in line at 7:30 a.m., but one hour later there was no line.

Not all was easy in Broward, however.

Shortly after 3 p.m., a poll worker told a crowd of about 75 people outside the Westview Lakes Clubhouse at 9200 Taft St. that their polling place had run out of ballots, said Tim Paulison, 33, of Pembroke Pines, who was standing in line.

Paulison said poll workers had been calling Broward County officials for more ballots for almost three hours, and that they were down to their “last box.’’

Voters waited inside the polling place, as chairs were already set up, until the precinct, X09, received additional ballots at about 4 p.m.

Afterwards, voting went “fairly smooth,’’ Paulison said.

No one cast an official ballot at Stork’s Bakery in Wilton Manors, but customers found a poll of sorts taking place there.

Customers sporting an “I voted” sticker were offered a mini cupcake gratis -- vanilla, chocolate or red velvet with a hefty swirl of red frosting on top for Republicans or blue frosting for Democrats.

As of 3:45 p.m., the unscientific cupcake poll showed Obama ahead 31 to 7.

That left-meaning margin at the local Wilton Manors hang out was no surprise in the liberal enclave of Broward that has a large gay community.

Miami Herald writers Kathleen McGrory, Christina Veiga, Paradise Afshar, Andrea Torres, Anna Edgerton, Anthony Cave, Elizabeth deArmas, Jacqueline Charles, Lidia Dinkova, Michael Finch, Nadege Green, Douglas Hanks, Theo Karantsalis, Marjie Lambert, David Ovalle and Janey Tate contributed to this report. Information from the News Service of Florida also was used. If you have questions about voting or the ballot, click here.

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