In reversal, Miami-Dade commissioners back 14 early-voting days

Miami-Dade commissioners did an about-face Tuesday and decided to ask the state for two full weeks of early voting days in future elections — five more days than the board had requested in December.

The latest reversal on voting came after Gov. Rick Scott’s administration called for 14 days of early voting — a flip by the Republican governor, who had refused to extend the pre-Election Day ballot-casting period last year, leading to long lines.

In the wake of the election, and the outrage of many Miami-Dade residents who waited more than six hours to vote, some commissioners wanted to advocate for 14 days of early voting, the period that existed in 2008.

But Mayor Carlos Gimenez and a majority of commissioners argued that request would not pass muster with the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature, which had reduced the number of days in the first place. They asked the state only to restore voting the Sunday before Election Day instead.

“I’m not sure that you’re going to get 14 days out of the state Legislature,” Gimenez said in December.

Then the tide turned in Tallahassee. Last week, an advisory group created by Gimenez to reform election laws reversed itself and recommended the county urge state lawmakers to reinstate the 14 days. Gimenez changed his tune last week and went along with that plan — which his elections supervisor, Penelope Townsley, had asked for all along.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Dennis Moss, who had been absent when the board signed off on the nine-day proposal, got commissioners to bring back the measure for a new vote — this time, asking the Legislature for 14 days. Moss said he was encouraged after speaking to the governor when he visited County Hall last month.

“He was very adamant about the 14 days,” Moss said.

Moss received unanimous support from the other 11 commissioners on the dais (Sally Heyman was absent) including Jean Monestime. In September, long before the lengthy presidential-election lines, Monestime had sponsored legislation asking the state to restore the 14 days. Commissioners approved it.

Monestime lightly chided his colleagues on Tuesday for taking this long to do what he called “the right thing.”

“Hopefully in the future, when we have to do something that is definitely, fundamentally right and protecting the rights of our people to vote, we won’t need to pay attention to the governor or to the mayor or to the commissioner ...because it’s the right thing,” said Monestime.

“Sometimes we have to ask for less to jump and receive more at the end,” Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa said.

In related matters Tuesday, commissioners approved legislation requiring the elections department to provide reports two to three months before primary and general elections anticipating absentee, early and Election Day voter turnout, summarizing voting equipment and personnel, and making any budgetary and legislative recommendations.

The board will also require reports one to two months after the elections detailing turnout, wait times and irregularities.

The board also asked state lawmakers to enact recommendations for preventing absentee-ballot fraud made by a Miami-Dade grand jury in December, including reinstating a requirement that someone witness that a voter has filled out and signed his or her own ballot.

The board also gave preliminary approval to a proposal by Commissioner Juan C. Zapata to print ballots in the single language chosen by a voter, instead of in English, Spanish and Creole.