Early-vote tally shows Miami Dolphins stadium renovation was failing at polls

The Miami Dolphins’ short-lived campaign for a subsidized Sun Life Stadium renovation appeared doomed from the start.

A majority of Miami-Dade voters who cast ballots in the special stadium election before it was called off opposed the $350 million makeover, according to a count the elections department released late Tuesday.

The tabulation showed that among the 60,678 voters who voted by mail or at early-voting sites, 34,780 — about 57 percent — opposed the Dolphins’ proposal, compared to 25,898 — or 43 percent — who favored it.

The vote tally, though revealing partial results for an incomplete election, provides a snapshot of the opinion of voters who voted early, despite not knowing whether their ballots would ultimately count.

The Dolphins were foundering at the polls at the time the referendum was canceled, the count shows, but a team spokesman dismissed any notion that the proposal would have failed.

“Today is another reminder that all Miami-Dade residents should have had an opportunity to vote,” Eric Jotkoff said in an email. “Based on these incomplete results, we were ahead of our internal projections.

“These numbers simply validate our belief that had all of Miami-Dade voters had the opportunity to make their voices heard, we are confident the modernization of Sun Life Stadium would have prevailed.”

A countywide vote had been scheduled for Tuesday but required approval from Florida lawmakers, who concluded their annual session without passing Dolphins-backed legislation. With the bill in limbo until the last day of session, voters began casting absentee and early ballots in the most unusual of elections where their votes wound up being moot.

That didn’t bother Andres Moya, a 58-year old registered Democrat who voted by mail against the renovation.

“I wouldn’t give money to anybody who doesn’t need it: a guy who’s a multi-billionaire,” Moya, a retired county worker who lives in the Coral Terrace area, said in an interview referring to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, a real-estate developer.

“I was glad that it did not go to a vote,” Moya added. “And I don’t think it was going to pass.”

Norman Braman, the Miami auto magnate who lobbied Tallahassee to block the Dolphins’ efforts, said after learning of the vote tally that he did not feel vindicated.

“It’s time to put this behind us,” he said, adding that he hopes Ross will make any necessary improvements to the Miami Gardens stadium, built in 1987.

Of the Dolphins’ expensive campaign, Braman said: “When you consider there was no organized opposition to this — I didn’t run an ad, and I didn’t send out anything — it’s just a tragic waste of money.”

The Dolphins spent nearly $10 million on the referendum: a $4.8 million nonrefundable payment to the county to cover the election costs and $4.5 million between April 14 and May 10 on an exhaustive political campaign to lure reliable voters to the polls. That’s at least $356 per “yes” vote, according to Tuesday’s vote tally.

At the request of Miami-Dade commissioners, the team negotiated the renovation agreement with Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who said he endorsed the deal but would not campaign for it. In a statement Tuesday, Gimenez emphasized that part of the deal required the Dolphins to pay for the election.

“While the referendum election was not fully realized, I’m proud that we crafted an agreement that made sure our voters had the final say on the stadium issue,” he said. “Just as important, this referendum did not cost our taxpayers any money — in fact, we estimate that there will be over $1 million remaining that can be used to meet other County needs.”

More than 60,000 voters had cast ballots by the time the referendum was abruptly called off. Of those, the elections department only tabulated the early votes and the absentee ballots that had been opened and verified up to that point.

About 42 percent of the electorate was Democratic and 39 percent Republican. The numbers indicate a disproportionately high turnout rate for Republicans, who account for 29 percent of the nearly 1.3 million registered voters in Miami-Dade.

GOP turnout was so high, in part, because of Republican familiarity with casting absentee ballots by mail, a type of voting the GOP dominates. Also, many Republicans opposed the idea of raising taxes.

The Miami-Dade GOP took a vote condemning the “corporate welfare,” and a majority of the Republican legislators from the county opposed the stadium deal in the Florida House of Representatives, which refused to take up the bill at the end of session.

Though the Dolphins blamed House Speaker Will Weatherford for scuttling the bill, the proposal actually stalled before it got to the House floor because of opposition from Miami-Dade Republicans as well as the House budget chief, Seth McKeel, who refused to agenda it for a vote late in the legislative session.

From that point on, the bill died a slow death and encountered increasingly difficult procedural hurdles in the Legislature’s waning days of session. The measure officially expired on the final day of session, May 3.

But even if the measure had made the ballot, Tuesday’s results indicated county voters were opposed regardless of race or party affiliation. Prior to the session’s official start, a survey by Florida International University political science professor Dario Moreno indicated super-majority opposition.

The Dolphins’ political team and management responded to Moreno’s poll by attacking him and his numbers. They insisted their internal polls, which they never released, showed a majority of voters supporting the proposal.

For Miami Democrat Ruby Allen, 63, there was little the Dolphins could say to change her mind.

“It was all just a lie, just a lie,” she said of their proposal, noting Ross’s personal wealth. “He has the money. He should build it himself. He doesn’t need the taxpayer money.”