The last day of early voting in Florida on Sunday saw an outpouring of black voters for Hillary Clinton, as Donald Trump’s campaign insisted he’s still got a path — however precarious — to victory in the state he needs most to clinch the presidency.
As Democrats worked to build an impenetrable Florida firewall for Clinton, late interest from voters led to an evening rush in Broward, the most Democratic county in the state, which reported lines up to two hours long at 7 p.m., the time polls were scheduled to close.
Across Florida, the black-church-based effort known as Souls to the Polls featured choirs, prayer — and a last-minute lawsuit that managed to extend voting by two hours in one Miami-Dade County location.
The Rev. Gaston Smith of Miami’s Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, speaking to a group that had marched to downtown Miami’s Stephen P. Clark Government Center, invoked the legacy of slavery and the civil-rights movement.
“We cannot be apathetic and not vote,” he said, “no matter what the election looks like.”
A record 6.2 million Florida voters had cast ballots as of Sunday morning and Democrats held a very slight advantage of about 32,000.
Ballots cast is a gauge of how well both parties are turning out voters, but it’s not the same as votes. Some Republicans won’t vote for Trump, some Democrats won’t vote for Clinton, some will choose another candidate and some will skip the race entirely.
For Trump, a positive sign is that despite Florida’s growing diversity, whites still account for about two or every three registered voters, and more Republicans than Democrats voted at the polls on Election Day four years ago.
Trump senior advisor Kellyanne Conway noted that early turnout by Republicans is stronger than four years ago, when Mitt Romney lost the state to Barack Obama by slightly less than 1 percentage point.
“We like a lot of the internal and external polling numbers in Florida,” Conway said, “and we very much like the early voting and absentee ballot information we’ve been receiving out in the field.”
The Republican National Committee said GOP voters make up 1.4 percent more of the share of early voters than at this point in 2012, and Democrats make up 5 percent less of the early vote share. (A big reason for that is a surge by yet another group of voters: no-party affiliation.)
“Based on turnout, I think we’re going to win Florida,” Trump told a rally in Reno, Nevada, on Saturday night.
Early turnout in Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county with the most Hispanic voters, has shattered all previous records and was nearly 70 percent higher than early voting in 2012.
On Sunday, the longest lines to vote were in largely Hispanic suburban communities such as Kendall and Miami Lakes.
Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge William Thomas ruled late in the day that voting should continue until 9 p.m. at the public library in Lemon City, a predominantly black Miami neighborhood. The Florida Democratic Party had sued, citing road closings due to a race and an unrelated car accident that kept cars from parking at the library for two hours earlier in the day.
There were no lines reported Sunday in Lemon City, and no voters at the site after hours were extended.
Cheryl Coleman, 50, of Miami Gardens, a nurse practitioner and registered Democrat, voted ahead of Election Day for the first time, at County Hall.
“We nurses love Hillary Clinton,” Coleman said. “She’s worked hard. She’s served the country. No candidate is perfect, but she’s been steadfast in the face of adversity. That’s what we need now in the country — steadfastness.”
The line at the West Dade Regional Library remained at about an hour long for much of the day, as people maneuvered around the building to stand in the shade. Two men dressed in Fidel Castro and Donald Trump costumes, complete with masks, strolled around the perimeter of a local Republican Party rally, waving anti-Trump signs.
In the reliably Republican stronghold, some voters, like 54-year-old Elizabeth Fresnedo, said they’d voted straight down the GOP ticket.
“I’m not voting for that lady at all — forget it,” Fresnedo, a registered Republican from Westchester, said of Clinton. “She’s got history, and I remember that history.”
But one young man hollered as he walked out of the library, “¡Viva Hillary!”
Betsy Gallardo, a 51-year-old nurse and registered Republican, voted for Clinton.
“I can’t stand men discriminating against women,” she said of Trump.
In heavily Democratic Broward County, some of the longest wait times Sunday were at a library in Miramar, a city with a large Caribbean-American population. Hundreds attended a rally that included Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and actress Regina Hall.
Fifty minutes before closing time at 7 p.m., four sites — in Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Plantation and Tamarac — reported wait times longer than an hour. In Tamarac, about 250 people stood in line, saying the wait was about two hours long. Security marked the end of the line at 7 p.m. A woman who arrived seconds later was told she was too late.
At the Hollywood library, voters were jovial despite waits up to 90 minutes long
Harrell and Kellee Henton waited nearly an hour to vote, while carrying their children on their shoulders as they slept.
“I didn’t expect it to be so many people,'” said Kellee Henton. “It’s going to be very interesting. I’m nervous for both sides. Never have I been so on edge.'”
One poll worker likened the crowds to the wait for the latest iPhone: “The wait has been well over an hour, but they keep coming,'” she said about 6:30 p.m
Earlier in the afternoon, dozens of people marched down Sistrunk Boulevard from New Birth Missionary Baptist Church to the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale.
“What motivates people this year is we have a candidate who totally lacks the character and the knowledge that is necessary to run the entire country,” said Veronica James, a lawyer from Pembroke Pines, referring to Donald Trump. She voted for Clinton.
In St. Petersburg, at the Greater Mount Zion AME Church, the lights dimmed as worshipers stood and joined hands and swayed from side to side, singing “I Heard the Savior Say.”
The Rev. Clarence Williams and his flock welcomed the end of the most polarizing presidential campaign in modern times.
“We need people to get out and vote,” he said. “I know you’re sick of it. God knows, we just want this stuff to be over. Don’t we?”
The congregation clapped as one and responded: “Amen.”
Less than an hour later, 60 people were standing in line, waiting to vote at a downtown county elections office.
Miami Herald staff writers Julie K. Brown, Charles Rabin and Carli Teproff, and Tampa Bay Times reporters Adam C. Smith, Paul Guzzo and Mark Puente contributed to this report.