Light South Florida voter turnout marks primaries

Without any marquee races to excite them, South Florida voters trickled in to the polls Tuesday in a primary election marked by a turnout that was light even by the low standards of off-year voting.

Though large numbers of voters and balky technology have turned some recent South Florida election days into marathons of endless, sweaty lines, Tuesday’s low turnout meant minimal problems at the polls. And zero waiting to vote.

Voters had their pick of booths at precincts across South Florida, where they were often outnumbered by poll workers, campaign volunteers and even, at times, candidates.

“Unfortunately, the turnout appears to be very low,” Democratic governor hopeful Nan Rich said during a lonely stop at North Miami’s Sunkist Grove Community Center. “I guess people are busy with their everyday lives.”

Through much of the day at Sunkist Grove, a lively corps of about 50 campaign workers waved placards, yelled out their chosen ballot numbers, and occasionally engaged in megaphone duels and rude verbal tussles. Much of the back-and-forth — one of the few signs of electoral heat anywhere on Tuesday — unfolded in Creole in this precinct with a strong Haitian-American segment.

But if the campaign foot soldiers were out in force, the voters were not. At around noon, a lone voter filled out a ballot at one of the dozen available stations.

At midday, some precincts in Miami Beach had seen fewer than 25 voters dribble in. A Miami Herald reporter who cast his ballot at the American Legion hall in Miami’s Morningside neighborhood at 9:30 a.m. didn’t see a single other voter.

Miami-Dade County elections officials said they expected a low turnout more or less in line with historic levels for primaries of around 20 percent, but conceded late Tuesday it could be lower than that. They had been hoping more voters would show up to the polls before the 7 p.m. closing time, but no surge was evident. In Broward, with ballots nearly counted, turnout hovered at 10 percent.

As polls closed down at Gloria Floyd Elementary in Kendall, a volunteer for a Miami-Dade County Commission candidate estimated she had seen no more than 20 voters since she arrived at 11 a.m.

It was much the same in Broward County. Fewer than 60 voters cast ballots at Plantation Central park between 4 p.m. and the close of voting.

All told, though, the light turnout and lack of any major glitches made for a smooth election day, elections officials said.

“It was a very successful day,” said Miami-Dade Chief Deputy Elections Supervisor Christina White.

First-time voter Oswaldo Arostegui, 18, found the voting experience at Gloria Floyd Elementary to be straightforward and worthwhile.

“I felt like I accomplished something,” said Arostegui, a biology student at Miami Dade College. “I felt comfortable, and it was an easy process.”

Like Arostegui, those who showed up to vote said they were motivated by a sense of civic duty or, in the case of voters at the Frost Museum of Science in Coconut Grove, by a set of Miami charter amendments, including a controversial proposal for the expansion of Bayside Marketplace and the erection of a massive observation and entertainment tower behind it.

At the museum precinct, Grove resident Cyndy Hill, 60, said she believed Tuesday’s vote was as critical as a major election

“It affects our neighborhoods,” Hill said.

If Arostegui and Hill were clearly in the minority Tuesday, the trend was set early.

In 14 days of early voting in Miami-Dade, only about 30,000 voters went to the polls, with another 84,000 casting absentee ballots. In Broward, where the early-voting period was 10 days, just over 19,000 went to the polls and about 40,000 turned in absentee ballots.

On Tuesday, as polling places opened at 7 a.m., there were fewer people in line to vote around Miami-Dade than at the new IKEA furniture emporium in Sweetwater, where 20 or so early-bird customers were already camped out in anticipation of the store’s grand opening Wednesday.

Voting was “quiet and simple,” said Josh Torres, 52, a construction worker who was among the first to show up to cast his ballot at Coral Reef Branch Library.

What few glitches surfaced were easily overcome — notably a power failure at the polling place at Plantation High School in Broward. Poll workers had to call the Supervisor of Elections’ call center at Nova Southeastern University to verify voters’ identities, but no voters showed up at one of the high school’s two precincts, while just 10 showed up at the other. Florida Power & Light said electricity was restored by 9:25 a.m.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said voting around the state went “smoothly” — though he conceded that, in an incident perhaps emblematic of the entire election, one of the state’s 6,200-plus precincts opened late because a poll worker overslept.

Miami Herald writers Philippe Buteau, Alexi C. Cardona, Crystal Chew, Joey Flechas, Douglas Hanks, Melhor Leonor, Patricia Mazzei, Marisol Medina, Matias Ocner, Rebeca Piccardo, Adrianne Richardson, Jackie Salo, Amy Sherman and Carli Teproff contributed to this report.

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