Broward and Palm Beach counties agreed Monday to let voters cast over-the-counter absentee ballots on Election Day as part of a lawsuit settlement with the Florida Democratic Party.
The party had sued Sunday, asking a Miami federal court to “extend voting opportunities” in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, where one out of every three Florida Democrats lives.
As part of the settlement, Broward and Palm Beach also extended office hours Monday for more voters to request, fill out and turn in absentee ballots on the spot — a practice known as in-person absentee voting.
Miami-Dade already lets voters request and cast absentee ballots in person through Election Day, so it did not have to agree to any changes as part of the settlement.
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Voters can only request and turn in absentee ballots at elections supervisor’s offices. They cannot be dropped off at individual precincts; voters who show up at their designated polling place with an absentee ballot will be asked to void that ballot and cast a regular one instead.
Hundreds of Miami-Dade voters lined up at the elections headquarters Monday, a day after a temporary shutdown at the site led to widespread confusion.
“Yesterday’s debacle kind of steered us in the right direction,” said Teresa Liberatore, 24, who was in line Monday morning with Matt Preira, 26. The two will be in Orlando on Election Day.
She was reading “Just Kids,” by Patti Smith. He was reading “Love in the Time of Cholera,” by Gabriel García Márquez.
“We knew we’d be here for a while,” Preira said.
They had learned they could vote Monday from a flurry of news coverage Sunday, when the elections office opened to allow in-person absentee voting — only to lock its doors for an hour, prompted by an overwhelming number of voters and by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who had not been informed about the voting in the first place.
Angry voters stayed in line, chanting and banging on the locked glass doors, until the office reopened. The national media swooped in. Administrators, whose intentions were to accommodate voters, apologized.
On Monday, Miami-Dade Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley stood before about a dozen television cameras to reassure the public that Election Day would go smoothly.
“I’d like the voters of Miami-Dade County to be confident that we are prepared,” she said.
The county’s 829 precincts — at 541 locations — will be set up Monday. Only 20 locations were open for the eight-day early-voting period, which officially ended Saturday at 7 p.m.
Speaking for the first time publicly about Sunday’s events, Townsley said she and Deputy Mayor Alina Hudak made an “operational decision” to allow voters to request absentee ballots in person Sunday after seeing lines up to seven hours long at early-voting sites Saturday.
Gimenez found out about the voting Sunday, Townsley said: “He asked that we suspend the operation until he was fully briefed.”
State law allows elections supervisors to offer in-person absentee voting through Election Day — including on weekends, at their discretion.
A county elections spokeswoman said 32 percent of county voters had already cast ballots as of Monday morning, between absentee and early voting.
Among those in line Monday was Vivian Pérez, 49, who said she won’t be able to vote Tuesday because no one else will be available to watch her father-in-law. “A friend called me this morning and said I could vote today, so I called the elections department to confirm it was true,” she said.
Pérez, of Miami, said she planned to vote for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
“I’m a Republican all the way, until the day I die,” she said.
Daneweise Joseph, 29, came with her 2-year-old Chihuahua — aptly named Liberty — to vote for President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
“I believe in my president,” she said. “He needs that additional time in office.”
For the last presidential election she waited for more than four hours at a North Bay Village precinct, so this time she wanted to vote early. She drove from near Little Haiti and got lost, twice, on her way to Doral, where she faced a two-hour-plus wait.
“That’s a cakewalk compared to what I went through last time,” she said. “I know that lines are going to be ridiculous tomorrow.”
El Nuevo Herald staff writer Melissa Sánchez contributed to this report.