Florida voters show passion and patience on first day of early voting

Florida voters packed early voting sites across the state Monday, producing long lines and expressing intense passions for and against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

In the nation’s largest must-win state, some voters patiently stood in line for more than 90 minutes in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties on the first day of the two-week early voting period.

They expressed raw emotions and a steely determination to make their voices heard in a coarse, divisive and tiresome campaign, and many said they were motivated mainly by their intense dislike of Clinton or Trump.

“The guy is completely a madman. He’s a psychopath,” said Matt Aloia, 45, who was one of the first to vote at a library in Boca Raton.

A Florida State University graduate and owner of a food distribution company, Aloia waited in the predawn darkness to vote for Clinton and to do his part to make sure Trump never becomes president.

In Tampa, Robert and Chris Kyle of Lutz wore their red “Make America Great Again” ball caps to Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library as they proudly cast ballots for Trump.

“Our borders need to be controlled and we need to keep our Second Amendment and First Amendment rights,” Chris Kyle said, as her husband echoed Trump’s criticism of the “liberal media bias” against his candidacy.

With polls showing a close race in Florida, Trump scheduled rallies in five cities over three days. Clinton will campaign Tuesday and Wednesday in Tampa and Broward County.

Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, made a Monday morning pit stop in Miami-Dade, visiting the county’s elections department headquarters in Doral, where he greeted volunteers gathered outside, and speaking at a rally on the campus of Florida International University.

Most voters reserved their strongest opinions for — or against — Trump.

Sarah Evans, 42, a Boca Raton real estate agent and naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in England, supports Trump’s views on immigration.

“He says what he thinks. He’s not a politician, so he’s not polished like Hillary,” Evans said. “If you want to be an American, and you really want it, do it properly. Don’t come here any other way.”

“Donald Trump brought me out to vote,” said Bill Bria, 65, a physician with no party affiliation who voted in downtown St. Petersburg, “to make sure he’s doesn’t even get anywhere close to the White House.”

Voters showed up early in South Florida and few people reported waiting more than a half hour to vote.

“It’s a historic election,” said Linda Barrett, 63, of Hollywood, who said she waited about 45 minutes to vote at a library. “We have a maniac who’s running and then we have a woman who is qualified and has so much experience.”

Sidney Smith, 58, an immigrant from Belize, voted for Clinton in Hallandale Beach and said she wants to bring relatives to the U.S.

“I like her perspective. I like what she offers,” Smith said. “I am a foreigner.”

As Dagyana Romero cast her ballot in downtown Miami, tears cascaded down her cheeks. A 40-year-old cosmetics consultant, she said her vote set an example for her late newborn daughter who died in 2014 during birth after premature complications.

“This is why I do it, for my kids,” said Romero, who has an 8-year-old daughter. “It empowers me to be a great mother and woman, and to set an example for my angel, who is no longer with us. It also allows me to be an example for my other child, who needs to know that voting means freedom and that she can do anything.”

Julio Gonzalez, 58, a Miami restaurant owner, said: “Hillary’s history of corruption and lying is something we should not tolerate. I think we need change in a more conservative bend.”

A statewide surge in early voters is more likely to help Clinton.

Democrats traditionally are more likely to vote early than Republicans in Florida and the counties with the long lines have a long history of voting Democratic, although their turnouts often lag behind the rest of the state.

“I’m pleasantly shocked,” said David Olsen, a retired electrical engineer and Palm Beach Democratic Party volunteer as he watched more than 200 people waiting in line to vote at a Palm Beach Gardens library.

Tampa Bay didn’t have long early voting lines Monday. Most Pinellas County voters vote by mail, and Hillsborough’s 20 sites appeared more than adequate to absorb the first-day demand.

Some voters said they can’t stomach Clinton or Trump.

At Coral Ridge Mall in Fort Lauderdale, registered Democrat and retired teacher Jerry Meehan voted for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

“I just don’t think I want to be represented by either candidate. There is a lot of baggage with both of them,” Meehan said.

Florida’s 14-day early voting period began at 7 a.m. Monday in 50 of the state’s 67 counties. It will continue in selected areas through Sunday, Nov. 6, when Democrats will launch a final early voting blitz at African-American churches, a program known as “Souls to the Polls.”

Of the nearly 1.3 million mail ballots that were reported as returned as of Monday, 41.7 percent were from Republicans and 40 percent were from Democrats.

Miami Herald staff writers Daniel Chang, Monique O. Madan, Patricia Mazzei and Amy Sherman, and Tampa Bay Times staff writers Divya Kumar and Tony Marrero contributed to this report.

Early voting

Early voting, at a minimum, must begin on the 10th day before an election that contains state or federal races and end on the 3rd day before the election, and shall be provided for no less than eight hours and no more than 12 hours per day at each site during the applicable period, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Voters who want to vote early should present a valid photo identification with a signature at the early voting site. Voters can vote at any early voting site within the county when the site is open.

For lists of early voting sites and times of operation, visit the web sites of the Miami-Dade and Broward county supervisors of elections.