Miami-Dade vote recount continues around-the-clock

Miami-Dade County Election department staff members work on the recount process of the county’s November 6th elections at the elections department in Doral on Saturday November 10, 2018.
Miami-Dade County Election department staff members work on the recount process of the county’s November 6th elections at the elections department in Doral on Saturday November 10, 2018. pportal@miamiherald.com

The recount at Miami-Dade County’s Elections Department is continuing around the clock. The recount team includes about 60 workers, assigned to 12-hour shifts, who bring out stacks of ballots in cardboard boxes for the others to scan and tabulate.

“For now, we’re going to continue 24/7 operations,” Elections Department spokesperson Roberto Rodriguez said. “We want to ensure that we hit the Thursday, 3 p.m. deadline.”

That could change. “We want to get a full day under our belts, see where we’re at, and then adjust,” Rodriguez added. “Maybe at the end of the day, when we hit 24 hours, we say, ‘Oh, we’re halfway through.’ ”

As the elections department neared its first full 24-hour cycle of recounting, representatives of the Miami-Dade NAACP and the ACLU of Florida gathered outside the county’s Election Department headquarters in Doral to demand all mail-in ballots be counted. The county received 266 stray ballots found in an Opa-locka mail-sorting facility on Saturday.

Late-arriving ballots are typical after an election, said department spokeswoman Suzy Trutie. County election offices can only count mail-in ballots that arrive by the time polls close at 7 p.m. on Election Day, according to state law. Of the county’s 413,000 ballots sent out by mail, just over 143,000 had not been returned as of Sunday morning.

But Miami-Dade NAACP President Ruban Roberts said that deadline should be waived for this election to include ballots postmarked on Election Day. He also called for a countywide search of post offices for lingering vote-by-mail ballots, and a post-mortem investigation of Florida’s election by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

“Every vote cast in accordance with the law should be counted,” he said during the press conference.

“If you have tons and tons of ballots that are stockpiled in a mailing facility, that is an irregularity,” he added in an interview.

Miami-Dade NAACP President Ruban Roberts speaks to reporters outside the Miami-Dade elections office on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Maya Kaufman mkaufman@miamiherald.com

Speakers noted the ACLU of Florida has reported that younger voters and members of racial and ethnic minorities are likelier to experience their mail-in ballots being rejected.

“This is not a partisan issue; this is about making sure that every vote is counted,” Melba Pearson, deputy director of the ACLU of Florida, said. “That’s the backbone of our democracy, and everything less than that is un-American.”

On Saturday morning, several dozen protesters outside the county election headquarters demanded all ballots be counted. The Sunday press conference drew no protesters.

The machine recount of the 813,000 ballots cast in Miami-Dade, the most populous county in the state, began just before 6 p.m. on Saturday. That put Miami-Dade a day ahead of Broward County, which experienced snags in the recount process from the start.

Recounts must be finished by 3 p.m. on Thursday for the revised totals to be reflected in the official results.

“The good news is we’re not in Broward,” said Jesus Suarez, an attorney for the Miami-Dade County Republican Party, who was observing Miami-Dade’s vote recount Sunday afternoon.

Elections Supervisor Christina White said she had to order high-speed ballot counting machines from Omaha in order to meet the Thursday recount deadline. She was planning 24-hour shifts, at least initially.

The county’s canvassing board, buoyed on Sunday morning by Krispy Kreme donuts, oversees the recount.

When a worker encounters an issue with a ballot, like physical damage, the department duplicates the ballot and shows it to the canvassing board. The board — comprised of White and county judges Victoria Ferrer, Andrew S. Hague and Tanya Brinkley — ensures that “the integrity of the ballot has been maintained,” Rodriguez said.

“I have full confidence in Christina White, a professional who heads our county’s Elections Department, and know that the department will continue to perform in an outstanding manner,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a statement on Saturday. “With over 813,000 ballots to scan and tabulate in five days this will be an extraordinary effort. Every necessary resource is in place to ensure that we comply with state law by the prescribed legal deadline.”

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered the recounts after receiving unofficial vote tallies from the state’s 67 elections departments on Saturday. The recounts were automatically triggered because vote totals in the races between Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for Senate, Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum for governor, and Matt Caldwell and Nikki Fried for commissioner of agriculture and consumer services were separated by less than half a percentage point.