Election Day polls close in South Florida

The polls have closed in South Florida and voting results are trickling in.

Testy primary races for the Florida House of Representatives and United States Congress are on the ballot, and countywide offices in both Miami-Dade and Broward counties are also up for grabs.

Miami Gardens voters are choosing new commissioners and a new mayor, and Miami-Dade voters deciding whether to lift a decades-old ban on pit bulls.

In addition, local referendums are being decided on the Miami Beach Convention Center, Museum of Contemporary Art, benefits for Opa-locka elected officials and terms for commissioners in Miami Springs.

Miami-Dade’s “Official Voter Guide,” 6 p.m.

Denise Allen, a 56-year-old bartender, said “I really didn’t do my homework” before going to vote at 1590 NE 123rd St. in North Miami.

No problem.

Allen said her decisions were made simple by a Rudy Moise canvasser, who gave her a handy “Miami-Dade County Official Voter Guide.”

The guide, endorsed by political operative Willis Howard, told her to vote for Moise for Congress District 24, state attorney candidate Rod Vereen and Joe Martinez for Miami-Dade mayor, along with another two dozen candidates. A picture of Michelle Obama was printed on the back along with a quote, apparently from the first lady.

“I love Obama,” Allen said.

Such guides are commonplace on election day.

For instance, voters in Kendall received a Miami-Dade Republican ballot guide Tuesday by Parents for Better Education telling them to vote for specific candidates for state representative, county commission and community council.

This year, however, guides are being handed out to voters as investigators look into absentee ballot fraud, including allegations that ballot brokers filled out forms against voters’ intentions.

Two Hialeah absentee-ballot brokers have been charged over the last two weeks with voter fraud. The brokers, known as boleteros in Spanish, have yet to be linked directly to any campaign, though the cases have indirectly touched the county mayor, the state attorney and a county commissioner.

— Daniel Ducassi, Patricia Mazzei and David Smiley

Voters complain of party-affiliation confusion, 5:30 p.m.

Some voters in Broward and Miami-Dade complained Tuesday about confusion from poll workers regarding their party affiliations and corresponding ballots.

Christian Schlareth, a 32-year-old sociology professor at Barry University, said workers apparently weren’t sure how to handle a voter who belongs to the Party of Socialism and Liberation.

Schlareth said poll workers at 1590 NE 123rd St. in North Miami were not going to let him vote because it was a primary and most candidates are Democrats or Republicans, as opposed to Socialist/Libertarians.

He insisted that he had a right to vote for mayor and for a local referendum, so workers placed a phone call to make sure it was okay for him to use a non-partisan ballot, Schlareth said.

Schlareth, who wanted to bounce Miami-Dade’s mayor from office, eventually got his ballot — and then mistakenly voted for Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

“I voted for the wrong guy,” he said.

Broward voter Morgan Dickinson complained that when he went to vote at Hollywood’s West Lake Park, he was given the wrong ballot.

Dickinson, a registered Republican, was given a nonpartisan ballot. When he told the woman who had given him the ballot, she said Tuesday’s election was a Democratic primary and the Republican primary was two months ago, he said.

Dickinson went ahead and filled out the nonpartisan ballot, but later called the Broward County Supervisor of Elections.

“They looked up my name and said I should’ve gotten a Republican ballot,” Dickinson said. “They told me I cast my ballot and there was nothing I could do about it.”

Any voter having an issue with the ballots should speak to the clerk, and if there is still a doubt, call the Supervisor of Elections said Mary Cooney, public services director for the Broward Supervisor of Elections.

“Obviously the voter should’ve done something about the issue before he voted,’’ Cooney said of Dickinson’s case. “If that happens, you don’t vote and get the issue corrected.”

— Daniel Ducassi and Ava Riviera

Detzner: Voting runs smoothly, state progresses on voter purge, 5:15 p.m.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner is one of a million people who already voted in today’s primary elections.

About 708,000 of those were cast through absentee ballots, and 367,000 were in early votes, he said in a news conference Tuesday morning. That’s 357,000 more early votes than were cast in 2008.

He added that recent changes to rules on early voting and registration requirements have not caused disruptions.

It’s unclear at this point whether the five Florida counties that are still operating under old election laws are seeing more or less voters than the rest of the state. Pinellas is one of 62 counties that will enforce the new law, while Hillsborough and four other counties will follow the old law.

Turnout in primary elections is usually small, falling at 18 percent and 22 percent in 2008 and 2010, respectively. The rural counties tend to have the highest voter turnouts, he said.

As the state cruises toward the Nov. 6 general election, Detzner said Florida is making progress toward gaining access to the non-citizen federal database that has been center to the fight over the so-called voter purge.

He said the state plans to implement a "deliberate, managed and controlled program" to clear non-citizens from the voter rolls before the general election.

Voting continues until 7 p.m. Eastern Time, and early poll results will be announced at 8 p.m. Questions about voting requirements and polling locations can be addressed at elections.myflorida.com or 866-308-6739.

— Brittany Alana Davis, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Commissioner Jordan predicts victory, 5 p.m.

Miami-Dade Commission District 1 incumbent Barbara Jordan predicted a successful outcome Tuesday when she voted at her precinct in the North Dade Regional Library in Miami Gardens.

Campaign workers for Jordan, who faces a challenge from outgoing Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson, set up a tent outside and a DJ played Jordan’s campaign jingle and gospel music for voters.

Jordan described the mood at the library as one of “anticipation; victory for me.”

“I think the community is really excited. I think turnout is going to be good. It’s been demonstrated all week long during early voting. So today is the culmination of that excitement and anticipation.”

Jordan presumably cast a ballot for herself (she declined to say who she voted for.)

— Janey Tate

Pit bull Ban Before Voters, 3 PM

On her way to run errands, Sandra Riquenes stopped at the Hialeah Fire Station No. 2 to cast her vote with her 13-year-old son Carlos by her side and favorite pet on her mind.

Riquenes, a registered Republican, voted for the candidates she thought could make improvements to the community. But it wasn’t only politics that brought the stay-at-home mom to the polls.

She also came to cast her vote for lifting Miami-Dade’s 23-year-old ban on pit bulls.

“Dogs are like kids: if you teach them to fight they will fight,” said Riquenes, 45, who owns a one and a-half-year-old pit bull mix named Daisy. “She is very playful and isn’t aggressive.”

Miami-Dade passed the ban in 1989 after a rash of attacks around the country, including one on a Kendall-area girl’s face.

Critics say the law has not helped: some 400 pit bulls entered the Miami-Dade Animal Services Department last year. Many of them were strays. The county commission voted recently to lift the ban, and now it’s up to voters to decide.

Hialeah voter Daniel Llanes, 21, voted to lift the ban on pit bulls, saying that he doesn’t agree with the fact that his Brazilian Mastiff, Apollo, is allowed in Miami-Dade County but pit bulls are not.

"It’s known that [Brazilian Mastiff’s] are a more aggressive breed," Llanes said. "People think pit bulls are violent and that’s not the case."

Llanes said many of his friends currently own pit bulls and bypass the laws by lying about the dog’s breed.

Al Brandys, a 64-year-old postal worker in Miami Shores, voted no on the pit bull repeal. He compares the dogs to animals like pythons and boas.

"People don’t need to have none of that s--t for pets," he said.

- Paradise Afshar and Daniel Ducassi

Election “labor of love,” - Brickell

At the Stanley Axelrod UTD Towers in Brickell, campaign volunteers outnumbered voters nearly 10 to 1 this morning.

The volunteers included Zoraida Barreiro, who implored voters to cast their ballots for her husband, incumbent Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro. Zoraida Barreiro said she had gotten positive feedback throughout the morning. "So far, so good," she said. "It’s hard to tell from the precincts."

Zoraida Barreiro is no stranger to election-day campaigning. She said she’s been hitting the poll since before Bruno Barreiro proposed.

"It’s a labor of love," she said.

Campaign volunteers aside, the Brickell independent living complex was quiet mid-morning Tuesday. Poll workers said the flow of voters had been heavier earlier in the morning, and with a lunchtime surge.


Commission chair Martinez shuns mail-in ballot, 11 AM

Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Joe Martinez, who is running for county mayor, voted with his wife, Ana, at 11 a.m. at John A. Ferguson Senior High School in West Kendall, where a big crowd of volunteers swarmed voters as they walked into the precinct.

An unidentified voter said she wouldn’t consider voting for Mayor Carlos Gimenez. "My husband’s a county employee."

In the sweltering heat, Ana Martinez had to wear a jean jacket over her campaign T-shirt, which is not allowed inside the polling place.

Joe Martinez, who spoke to reporters before voting, predicted there would not be a runoff in the mayoral race.

"I think this ends today," he said.

He and his wife brought in their absentee ballots to cancel them and vote in person instead. They usually vote by mail, he said, but no longer want to do so following an ongoing absentee-ballot fraud investigation.

"I don’t trust it," he said of voting my mail. "For sure, my vote will count for me."

On his way out, he ran into his opponent’s wife. Lourdes Gimenez, whose husband is mayor Carlos Gimenez, was a volunteer at Martinez’ polling precinct.

“Hi commish,” she said with a handshake and a kiss on the cheek.

Record absentee ballots in Broward, where some glitches reported. 11 AM

A record number of voters cast their ballots by mail in Broward County, where technical problems slowed down some polling stations.

Hallandale voter Harris Fleisher said the verification machine used to find the voter’s registration information was busted at the Hallandale Cultural Center. He was forced to fill out a form and wait for the poll worker to get verification by phone.

“Perhaps it’s a minor problem, but the poll worker indicated that it’s going on all around the county,” Fleisher said. “At my polling station, they couldn’t look me up at all. It only took about five minutes, but if happens in November, it’s going to be a real problem. If it happens in a presidential election, I can see it taking hours.”

Fleisher was suspicious of the voting glitch, because he also received two voter registration cards by mail and a last-minute polling change to a station outside his congressional district.

Elections division public service director Mary Cooney said she only knew of one polling station in Sunrise where EViD, the electronic voter identification unit, malfunctioned. The machine was put in a place a few years ago to replace old fashioned poll book registries. It uses a driver’s license swipe to verify a voter’s address state and signature.

“Voters are still voting,” Cooney said. “It’s not preventing anyone from voting. All they have to do is look up the person manually or phone it in.”

Based on the small number of complaints fielded so far, she said turn out seemed especially low. This was the first year that Broward County sent a mailer to registered voters asking whether they preferred to vote by mail.

They sent out 102,000 absentee ballots – a record – and got 40,000 back. Last primary, only 23,000 people voted by mail.

“The good thing about absentee ballots,” she said, “is you can take your time voting.”

And you don’t have to worry about faulty elections equipment.

-Frances Robles

Mayor casts his ballot, 10 AM

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his wife, Lourdes, voted at 9:30 a.m. at their precinct, the county water and sewer department offices just outside Coral Gables. The couple arrived in a gray Volvo driven by Gimenez. A poll worker asked the mayor for photo ID. "I have to make sure you’re who you say you are," she said with a smile. He handed over his license. After voting, Gimenez told a scrum of reporters and TV crews that he congratulated his main rival, County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez, for running a "pretty clean" campaign. "Hopefully the majority of voters in Miami-Dade County will go out and vote today. It’s our duty and our responsibility," Gimenez said. He declined to make predictions. "I look forward to tonight’s results. Let’s see what happens."

- Patricia Mazzei

Miami Beach at the polls, 9:30 AM

Campaign volunteers appeared to outnumber voters in most of Miami Beach voting precincts Tuesday morning. "This is so dead. It’s like a ghost town. No one is showing up to vote," Dade Vote volunteer Jamer Baptiste, 28, said. "There hasn’t been much. Most of the voters are older Hispanic people."

Baptiste was at South Shore Community Center in South Beach. There was some confusion at the Police Athletic League. Officials moved the precinct to Miami Beach Fire Station 3, but some did not see the sign.

For a while, John Ristow was frustrated, because a poll worker couldn’t find his name. "I finally leaned down, grabbed the book and looked for my own name," Ristow said. "Everything else went very smoothly. I would say it took me about five minutes. "Most people voted against having pit bulls in their neighborhood. "It was an obvious decision," Henry Berger, 54, said. "I love animals but I have a child and I don’t want a neighbor to have a dog that can do something to my child. "Most people were ambivalent to the one cent tax for tourists. "I don’t think that with this economy any one should be raising any taxes," Maria Perez, 75, said in Spanish. "I don’t know how they would dare to ask the voters such a question." Miami Beach City Hall was quiet early in the morning. "Most people were in and out. It seemed like they had more machines than they really needed," Jose Cifuentes, 42, said. At the Miami Botanical Garden, there were at least two dozen people holding up signs trying to get the attention of people driving by. "I expected to see more action today. Frankly this was all really boring," Natalia Bustamante, 17, said. "I probably saw five voters today." She was helping her mother carry signs back to their car.

-Andrea Torres

Polls open, 7 AM:

Voters trickled to the polls Tuesday for races that ranged from U.S. Senate to Florida House and county commission.

A new mayor may be chosen in Miami-Dade and, in Broward County, party voters will get to choose the sheriff, clerk of court and county commission.

In Miami-Dade, the most prominent contest open to all voters, regardless of district or party affiliation, is for the nonpartisan county mayor. Mayor Carlos Gimenez, elected last summer to finish the term of ousted Mayor Carlos Alvarez, is now seeking a full, four-year term. He faces six opponents, chief among them County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez.

Conventional wisdom says few voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, on a summertime Election Day a week before the first day of school while many families will still be on vacation.

But 10 percent of Miami-Dade’s registered voters have already cast ballots in the primary election — most of them by mail, despite an ongoing absentee-ballot fraud investigation marring some local races.

Two Hialeah absentee-ballot brokers have been charged over the last two weeks with voter fraud for allegedly filling out ballots against voters’ intentions and, in at least one case, forging a voter’s signature. The brokers, known as boleteros in Spanish, have yet to be linked directly to any campaign, though the cases have indirectly touched the county mayor, the state attorney and a county commissioner.

That air of dirty politics affected the ballot choices for Ruth Ramirez, a native of Latin America who shunned candidates with surnames like her own.

"I voted for the most American-sounding candidate,” said Ramirez, a 51-year-old sales manager who lives in the Hammocks. “I’m tired of corruption from Latin American politicians, even though I’m Latin American."

She cast her vote for mayoral candidate Denny Wood, a longtime activist for the disabled.

Ramirez, who voted before going in to work Tuesday morning at West Kendall Regional Library, said she doesn’t let fliers or people near the polls affect her decision.

"I don’t let others influence me. When they call me to persuade me at home, I hang up," she said. "I have my principles. I read and decide."

Manuel Guerrero, who voted at a Hialeah fire station, was dead set on voting for Martinez when he went to the polls before heading to work.

Guerrero said Carlos Gimenez’s proposed tax cuts will have an adverse affect on police and firefighters.

"I came out, because I wanted to have my voice heard,” the 60-year-old registered independent said. “I think [Gimenez] is putting too much of a burden on firefighters and police.”

Other races on the ballot include Republican and Democratic primaries for U.S. Senate, expected to be easily won by U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV and incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, respectively; a Republican primary to pick a candidate to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of Weston; a Democratic congressional primary between West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel and Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs; and a slew of Florida House and Senate contests.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle faces a Democratic challenger in attorney Rod Vereen.

A congressional primary between U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson and challenger Rudy Moise, both Democrats, will be open to all voters because no other candidates have filed to run in the November general election. The district straddles Miami-Dade and Broward. Another primary between two Democrats vying for a Miami-Dade/Broward district, state Rep. Joe Gibbons and rival Sheldon Lisbon, will also be open to all voters.

There are also nonpartisan commission races in five districts, a School Board race in one district and a number of countywide judicial races.

In Broward, voters countywide will vote for two, at-large School Board members, as well as for three district seats. There are also countywide races for circuit and county judges.

"Right now I see some progress, but some things stand still,” said Darren Saunders, 41, who voted at the North Dade Regional Library. “I want to see improvements in the community. I want to put people in office who will best serve me."

Based on reporting by Miami Herald reporters Patricia Mazzei, Stephanie Parra, Janey Tate and Paradise Afshar. Compiled by Frances Robles.