Florida readies for crucial primary

Miami Beach voters mark their ballots during 2014 general election.
Miami Beach voters mark their ballots during 2014 general election. El Nuevo Herald

Up to now, Floridians have been observers in the circus that is the presidential race. Voting has taken place in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and, today, the GOP holds its Nevada caucuses.

Super Tuesday is on the horizon. And then, finally, the Florida Primary is up on March 15 — showtime for a pivotal state notorious for voting maladies. Are we ready? Yes, the Miami-Dade Elections Department told the Miami Herald Editorial Board on Friday.

As the presidential election nears, the Miami Herald Editorial Board plans to focus on helping our readers make their voices heard — Democrats, Republicans and Independents. OK, Libertarians, too.

We had some success last year in getting stakeholders working together for solutions to our traffic problems via our Hell on Wheels initiative. We’d likewise like to be knee-deep in the process of selecting our next president and taking our loyal readers along.

Our county has the most voters: There are currently 1,244,182 registered voters in the county — 519,677 Democrats and 349,640 Republicans.

In a presidential race where gender matters, the numbers stack up this way, pending changes next week: There are 540,803 male voters; 669,014 female voters. Good news for Hillary Clinton.

Age is another critical fact: As of Friday, the largest voting age group in the county were those 66 and older, at 292,507. The second largest group was more of a surprise: those aged 18-25, with 139,084 registered to vote. Good news for Bernie Sanders. Perhaps.

We believe the role Miami-Dade will play in this presidential election cannot be understated. After all, Marco Rubio, a local guy, is among the leaders now that another prominent local figure, Jeb Bush, has dropped out. A third, Donald Trump, is a frequent visitor. Even underdog Ben Carson has a home in Palm Beach.

Being rightfully proactive in a presidential election year, Elections Director Penelope Townsley recently held a news conference to unveil a leaner process — along with a new I Voted Sticker.

Last week was the deadline to register to vote, or switch parties. Also last week, the elections department began sending out thousands of absentee ballots.

For those voting at a precinct this year, the process will be faster and smoother. Miami-Dade will offer more early options than ever. There will be 14 days, eight-hours per day at 30 — up from 20 — sites across the county, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez recently told the board.

The department is also doing better at distributing voting locations, ensuring that these sites can accommodate the number of voters assigned to them. In other words, there won’t be multiple precincts at one site. Good move.

Also disappearing is the driving, by a designated person, of final results from precincts to the election department — an archaic mad dash. The mayor agrees. “We’re using a flash drive and the results will be sent, not driven anymore,” he told the board. Welcome to the 21th Century, Miami-Dade!

Overall, there will be more voting machines available. Voters will no longer have to wait for a machine designated by alphabetical order. Gone too are the giant voting registration books manned by poll workers. Electronic voter check in is now in place.

So everything should go smoothly for the March 15th primary and then for the Nov. 7 presidential election, right?