State Politics

As margins of state races get razor-thin, voters rush to make sure their votes count

Miami-Dade County counts provisional ballots

Miami-Dade County counts provisional ballots on Thursday, November 8, 2018 at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department.
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Miami-Dade County counts provisional ballots on Thursday, November 8, 2018 at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department.

At 4:55 p.m. Thursday — five minutes before the impending deadline — Alfredo Garcia dashed across the parking lot and through the glass door of Miami-Dade’s elections headquarters.

The 22-year-old Miamian had the determination of a college student willing to turn in a final paper before it was due. But instead of an essay, he held tightly onto his driver’s license. He needed to make sure his vote counted.

Garcia was one of the voters who rushed to the elections department to make sure their provisional ballot counted before the 5 p.m. Thursday deadline. As the margins between the candidates for governor, U.S. senator and agricultural commissioner continue to be razor-thin, each vote became increasingly important.

On Election Day, Garcia patiently waited for about two hours at Sylvania Heights Elementary School, 5901 S.W. 16th St., until the poll workers handed him a provisional ballot, given to voters who have some problem — for example, they forgot to bring their photo identification. They then had until 5 p.m. Thursday to “cure” the problem at elections headquarters in Doral.

In Garcia’s case, “apparently my name magically disappeared out of the system,” he said. Garcia is a registered Democrat and was able to vote in the 2016 elections.

Garcia was with his dad on Tuesday, and his dad was able to vote but he wasn’t. So Garcia filled out the provisional ballot and shoved the idea to the back of his mind. He said he didn’t originally plan to follow through with the Elections Department to make sure his ballot was cast correctly.

Then he discovered Thursday that the statewide races he cared about were highly contested. Gillum and Nelson — the candidates he wanted — needed all the support they could get.

But wait, did his vote actually count? After rushing to the office and showing his driver’s license, he was told it did. The process took about two minutes, but it was inconvenient, he said.

“I’m glad it counted,” he said. “But it felt like they tried to make it a hassle.”

As soon as the clock hit 5 p.m. Thursday, a canvassing board reviewed the 971 provisional ballots cast in Miami-Dade. Only 207 were counted when the process ended at about 7 p.m. The rest fell into problematic categories — voters who had already voted or had never registered to vote.

The Elections Department was “flooded” by emails from voters concerned about their ballots, said Christina White, the county elections supervisor. Some of those emails may have helped push provisional ballots into being accepted.

Abby Young, a 28-year-old musician who mostly works afternoons and evenings, used her Thursday morning to volunteer for the Democratic Party’s Pinecrest office. She got a list of people whose ballots were problematic, and called each of them incessantly. If they didn’t answer, she paid them a visit at home.

She said she helped two elderly voters. The first was a woman who had received a mail-in ballot and also voted in person, so she needed to surrender the former. The second was a man who needed to explain his address had changed and he had never received the mail-in ballot he requested so he voted in person instead.

“It felt great to help,” Young said. “Some of the voters were confused by the process.”

Jayla Mignott, 34, also went to Doral on Thursday to make sure her ballot counted. She said that in the weeks leading up to the election she partied too hard and lost her driver’s license. Without a valid form of identification, she was forced to fill out a provisional ballot during early voting.

Mignott had dragged her girlfriend and her 86-year-old grandma to the polls with her, so she felt like she needed to also make sure her own counted. On her day off from the renter’s insurance company where she works, she drove up from Kendall and presented her newly issued ID at the department’s front desk.

“Politics are kind of shady,” she said. “There’s a lot going on including downright cheating and voter suppression, so I wanted to make sure my vote was valid.”

Charles Johnson’s vote was in jeopardy as early as this summer: An alarming letter arrived in his mailbox sometime in June. His name was too similar to that of a felon, it read. He needed to get his fingerprints taken to prove his identity or his vote might not count.

Johnson, 65, who lives in Liberty City, said he cherishes his vote so much he hasn’t missed a single election in his entire life.

It took a trip to the police department on July 13 and another to the Miami-Dade Elections Department soon after, but Johnson sorted it out and voted at Olinda Elementary School, 5536 NW 21st Ave., in the primary election. But when he showed up to Caleb Head Start, 5400 NW 22nd Ave., during early voting in October he was forced to fill out a provisional ballot.

Before Election Day, Johnson trekked back to the Elections Department, and then again Thursday to try one last chance at getting his vote to count. But poll workers said they hadn’t received any information from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement yet.

“It’s unfair,” he said. “I did everything they wanted me to do. I thought everything was taken care of, but they still took it away from me, and there’s nothing I can do but watch.”

Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.

Florida law requires an automatic recount in a race in which the difference in vote totals is half a percent or less. The law requires a manual recount if the difference in the vote totals is 1/4 of a percent or less.

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