Early voting kicked off in South Florida on Monday with voters eager to cast ballots and encountering short to moderate lines, with only a few first-day glitches that turned what would have been a quick trip to the ballot box into a patience-testing back up.
With numerous local and statewide questions on the ballot, including five constitutional amendments and a seat in the U.S. Senate, many voters expressed a desire to perform their civic duty early — though they also espoused passionate views for and against the candidates at the top of the ticket: Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican contender Donald Trump.
Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, even made a Monday morning pit stop in Miami-Dade, visiting the county’s elections department headquarters in Doral, where he greeted volunteers gathered outside, and stoking Democratic voters for down-ballot races by skewering Republican incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio at a rally on the campus of Florida International University.
“It’s a historic election,” said Linda Barrett, 63, a Hollywood resident who said she waited about 45 minutes at the Hollywood Branch Library in Broward to cast her ballot.
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Broward’s Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes reported Monday night that 31,340 votes had been cast on Monday, in addition to the 84,310 who voted by mail. In Miami-Dade, the county’s elections department estimated that approximately 35,000 voters cast their votes on Monday, up from the 25,000 who cast their votes on the first day of early voting in 2012. In addition, the county has received about 131,000 of the 364,000 absentee ballots that had been requested.
Wait times varied by the hour and location, though few voters reported waiting more than 30 minutes to vote. Carolina Lopez, the deputy supervisor of elections in Miami-Dade, said the busiest precincts were West Dade Regional Library, the Coral Gables Branch Library and the North Dade Regional Library, where wait times went as long as 90 minutes. County officials say the average wait time for all polls was about 15 to 20 minutes.
At the Coral Ridge Mall in Fort Lauderdale, registered Democrat and retired teacher Jerry Meehan said he voted for the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson.
“I’m not too pleased with either of the candidates,” he said, referring to Trump and Clinton. “I just don’t think I want to be represented by either candidate. There is a lot of baggage with both of them.”
Linda Holck, a volunteer for the Trump campaign, waved a Trump sign outside of the Coral Ridge Mall Monday afternoon.
“I would find it very hard to vote for Hillary — I think she is so corrupt,” said the flight attendant and Republican voter. “We need an outsider.”
I’m not too pleased with either of the candidates. ... There is a lot of baggage with both of them.
Jerry Meehan, registered Democrat who voted Libertarian for president
Daniel Hidalgo, a 31-year-old online sports journalist, said that he voted for Clinton as an “anti-vote” against Trump.
“He came from being a joke to a very serious thing,” Hidalgo said. “He is pushing the barriers — the Trump tape, saying things about Mexicans, the wall, his anti-Hispanic attitude.”
At Wilton Manors City Hall Monday afternoon, a couple of voters said that it took them about 40 minutes to get through the line and vote.
Kim Lapier, a 58-year-old equine veterinarian technician and Oakland Park Democrat, voted for Clinton.
“She’s the best one for the job,” she said. “She’s not prejudiced. It’s time for a woman president.”
Ron Wolff, a Fort Lauderdale retired property manager and Democrat, said he voted for Clinton in part because of Trump’s “attitude toward women and divisiveness.”
In the U.S. Senate race, Wolff voted for Democrat Patrick Murphy although he said he voted for incumbent Marco Rubio, a Republican, when Rubio first ran for Senate in 2010.
“Marco let us down when he ran for president,” Wolff said. “He’s just planning on dumping us again and running for president if elected.”
Early voting, at a minimum, must begin on the 10th day before an election that contains state or federal races and end on the 3rd day before the election, and shall be provided for no less than eight hours and no more than 12 hours per day at each site during the applicable period, according to the Florida Division of Elections.
At an early voting site in Miami-Dade’s Kendall Branch Library, three of four printers in place to print out ballots stopped working at about 9:30 a.m., causing a line of about four people to swell to 40 while the printers were repaired.
Fifteen minutes later, as the line to vote extended to the sidewalk and spilled into the residential neighborhood, elections workers had fixed the printers.
Then voters encountered a second obstacle: pens used to fill out the ballots had run out of ink.
Claire Laurence, 85, of Kendall, hopped from voting booth to voting booth in search of a working pen and wishing the Miami-Dade elections department had more current technology.
“Quite an event this early voting, although I wish that all the machines were touch screen,” she said. “It took four machines to find machines where the pens had not run out of ink. Touch screens in the future, please. Make it easy on us, please.” (Many counties in Florida moved to touch-screen voting after the 2000 election fiasco. But the Legislature did away with touch screens before the 2008 election because of reliability questions and the difficulty of recounts without a paper trail.)
Despite the glitches and moderate waits, voters remained patient — and passionate.
30 Average wait time reported by most voters on first day of early voting Monday
At the Hollywood Branch Library in Broward County, about 50 people stood in line to cast a ballot. The average wait was about 30 minutes, many voters said. The library is one of 21 early voting sites in Broward.
Set up about 100 feet away from the entrance to the polls, candidates handed out fliers and carried signs campaigning for Hollywood mayor and seats on the city commission, while grass-roots supporters championed their candidates.
Shane Ball, a 43-year-old Hollywood resident, said the 30 minutes to cast his ballot was worth the wait. He filled out a sample ballot while waiting, and generally voted Republican down the ticket.
“I’m a Trump voter,” said Ball, who added that he’s a small business owner. “He’s not part of the establishment and Hillary Clinton is.... I voted, honestly, more against Hillary than for Trump.”
Ball said he found the long lines reassuring. “The election has stirred up a lot of interest,” Ball said. “I thought people were going to wait for the last minute.”
Barrett, the Hollywood voter, said she voted Democratic but left blank a few questions on local judges.
Of the presidential election, Barrett said: “We have a maniac who’s running and then we have a woman who’s qualified and has so much experience.”
Voters who want to vote early should present a valid photo identification with a signature at the early voting site. Voters can vote at any early voting site within the county when the site is open.
In Miami-Dade, where elections officials have opened 30 early voting sites, the line at the Coral Gables Branch Library snaked inside the building and spilled outdoors by about 11 a.m. The elections department said the wait was 30 minutes, but voters and volunteers said it took them longer to vote.
Colleen Abernathy, a 90-year-old Miami resident, said she stood in line for 40 minutes. But she wasn’t complaining.
“It wasn’t bad at all,” she said. “I always like to get voting over with.”
Elsewhere, however, elections were running smoothly, according to voters.
Silvia Gomez, 51, cast her ballot at the Hallandale Beach Cultural Community Center, in about five minutes.
“It went fast and easy,” said Gomez, a Hollywood resident who has traditionally votes early in Hallandale Beach. “Everything was just the way it should have been. There was no line. I always do early voting because I don’t like the hassles.”
Sidney Smith, 58, also cast a ballot Monday at the Hallandale Beach site, next door to city hall, where some council members Michelle Lazarow and Keith London held a news conference to denounce political dirty tricks, accusing their opponents of placing global positioning trackers on their cars.
But Smith was not there for local issues. An immigrant from Belize, Smith said he was motivated to vote for Hillary Clinton for president because he has family abroad and he wants to bring them to the United States.
“I like her perspective. I like what she offers,” said Smith, who went to the polls with his wife, Shirleen.
It wasn’t bad at all. I always like to get voting over with.
Colleen Abernathy, 90, of Miami
Many voters turned up at the Adrienne Arscht Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Miami. Voters said it was kind of slow because some poll workers were new.
Voters walked in by the dozens early Monday to cast their vote in what most of them called “a historic election.”
Marco Strapazzini, who said voted for Clinton, lives just off Biscayne Boulevard and added that he “needed to take part in this craziness” before going into work.
“This is our right; to express ourselves and at least believe we have a voice to make things better,” said Strapazzini, 53, who emigrated from Italy in the 1990s. “People complain that this election is complicated, but its not. It's really simple, just go vote.”
Dagyana Romero, 40, said voting goes beyond the polls for her. About two years ago, she lost her newborn premature daughter after complications at birth. She went to the polls with her daughters.
“This is why I do it,” Romero said. “I knew that if I had both my girls here, it would be an empowering scenario. It empowers me to be a great mother and woman, and to set an example to her.”
Romero and Strapazzini said they did not believe the election is rigged, as many, including Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, have suggested. Both voters said they filled out a complete ballot.
“Not voting for anything else other than the president, well there’s no point in that,” Romero said. “What about your community?”
Miami Herald staff writers Howard Cohen and Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.