Miami-Dade reports speedy results, claims victory after 2012 debacle

Jessi Bekkin, after voting, leaves the Miami Fire Station at Southwest Second Avenue and 11th Street on Tuesday, March 15, 2016.
Jessi Bekkin, after voting, leaves the Miami Fire Station at Southwest Second Avenue and 11th Street on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. rkoltun@elnuevoherald.com

Miami-Dade County managed to report the bulk of its election results within an hour of polls closing Tuesday, speedy results that officials said bode well for avoiding a repeat of the delays and long lines that tarnished the county’s 2012 presidential election.

Christina White, the county’s elections chief, attributed the quick turnaround of poll results to upgrades to Miami-Dade’s election technology and processes implemented after the 2012 problems. While poll workers previously had to physically drive voting equipment to county hubs before they could be tabulated, this was the first countywide election to use electronic reporting directly to headquarters. And with a new sign-in system that let poll workers swipe voters’ driver licenses instead of flipping through paper records, county officials said precincts weren’t left with lines as voting came to a close at 7 p.m. in Florida’s largest county.

“We don’t really have any issues we’re aware of,” said Alina Hudak, the deputy mayor whose portfolio includes Elections.

Even so, Miami-Dade reported hiccups throughout the day. White said some county workers did not show up to their assigned shifts at polling places. After 10 p.m., Miami-Dade still did not have a full vote count, with about 7 percent of the precincts still outstanding. One precinct in Miami Beach mistakenly told a voter without party affiliation that he couldn’t vote in the primary, even though the resort city was holding a referendum on a proposed convention-center hotel. White said the voter was eventually given a ballot reserved for Democratic voters, but that his portion on the hotel question would be counted.

“There are things we have to work out,” said Mayor Carlos Gimenez. “But all and all, I think this is a big improvement over the past.”

Statewide, Florida’s Primary Day was also met with occasional mishaps and alleged mishaps. According to Miami Herald news partner CBS4, a bomb threat hoax forced the evacuation of voters — and students — from Pompano Beach Middle School. The evacuation happened just before 9 a.m., and lasted until shortly before 10:30 a.m., when authorities determined there was no bomb.

One teacher told CBS4 that at least two people were unable to vote during the emergency evacuation. Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes encouraged anyone who wasn’t able to vote to return and cast a ballot.

Donald Trump caused a stir shortly after 2 p.m. when he posted a message on Twitter saying he had “heard his name was not on the ballot in various places in Florida.” He added: “Hope this is false.”

State election officials responded later in the afternoon, saying Trump’s name had not been omitted anywhere. ABC News reported the problem stemmed from some residents in Jupiter complaining about Trump missing from their ballots, but local authorities said the voters weren’t registered Republican.

This was an issue in Miami-Dade, too, and White said the county noticed an unusually high number of provisional ballots issued during the early-voting period leading up to Election Day— about 800 of them, out of more than 350,000 cast. Those ballots are issued when someone is deemed ineligible to vote at a precinct but wants to vote anyway. A canvassing board later decides whether to approve the ballot.

Florida holds a closed primary, meaning voters can only vote in their party’s contest. For voters living in cities deciding local questions in the March cycle, they are offered ballots that include the municipal items.

With both Trump and Democratic contender Bernie Sanders appealing to independents this year, there was the potential for their supporters being turned away for lack of party affiliation in Florida.

But White said each presidential primary brings out independents who think they can vote for their favorite Republican or Democrat that year. She said 2016 brought more complaints because of an unusually lean ballot, without the countywide questions in past years that gave everybody something to vote on. “In previous presidential primaries, we still had a ballot” for everyone, she said.

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