An attempt by the Miami-Dade elections department to let more people vote early Sunday devolved into chaos after the department was overwhelmed with voters.
The department locked its doors about an hour into the four-hour operation without explanation, then said it would resume allowing voters to request and cast absentee ballots in person. Miami-Dade had opened its Doral headquarters from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. as a work-around to a provision in state law that eliminated early voting the Sunday before Election Day.
Anyone in line by 5 p.m. at the Doral elections headquarters at 2700 NW 87th Ave. will be allowed to vote, department spokeswoman Christina White said at 3 p.m. The department brought in a second ballot printer and more staffers to re-open.
Shortly before the temporary shutdown an hour earlier, the department had said it would not be able to accommodate more than the around 180 voters who were in line by 2 p.m. Then the office shut its doors, and people in line started shouting, “Let us vote!”
Some voters who had parked in a lot across the street saw their cars getting towed.
“This is America, not a third-world country,” said Myrna Peralta, who waited in line with her 4-year-old grandson for nearly two hours before being turned away. “They should have been prepared.”
“My beautiful Sunshine State,” she lamented. “They’re not letting people vote.”
When it opened its doors, the department had only one ballot-printing machine, five voting booths and two staffers to assist voters. The office said it was overwhelmed by voters.
“We had the best of intentions to provide this service today,” White had said. “We just can’t accommodate it to the degree that we would like to.”
Miami-Dade had announced Sunday morning that it would allow voters to request, fill out and turn in absentee ballots on the spot for four hours in the afternoon after the Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit in the wee hours seeking to somehow extend voting in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties before Election Day.
State law allows elections supervisors to accept in-person absentee ballots through 7 p.m. Tuesday — including Sunday, at the elections supervisor’s discretion. Miami-Dade had planned to open Sunday only for voters to drop off absentee ballots.
Broward, which had not initially followed suit, said early Sunday afternoon it would also try to accommodate voters — but they would have to wait until voters who made appointments cast their ballots first.
But possibly because the county did not announce that possibility, there were no voters in line at about 3 p.m. Sunday at the Lauderhill satellite office located at 1501 NW 40th Ave. Poll workers said they had assisted voters who had appointments to pick up their ballots as well as voters who had dropped by without an appointment to fill out a ballot.
Broward is accepting new appointment requests for Monday at 954-712-1964 and 954-712-1974.
The Palm Beach elections supervisor announced Sunday morning that the county would also allow in-person absentee voting. So did two counties in the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas and Hillsborough.
Voters across the state can request and cast absentee ballots in person Monday.
The Democrats’ lawsuit, filed in Miami federal court, argues that an emergency judge’s order is necessary to “extend voting opportunities” before Tuesday in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, including allowing voters to cast absentee ballots in person at supervisor of elections’ offices.
The three counties combined have nearly 1.6 million registered Democratic voters, who represent about 32 percent of all the state’s registered Democrats, according to state voter rolls. The Palm Beach elections supervisor announced Sunday morning that the county would also allow in-person absentee voting.
It’s unclear exactly what more a court could do, two days before Election Day. The lawsuit does not ask U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz to re-open all early-voting sites.
An attorney for the Miami-Dade elections supervisor filed a motion Sunday morning saying the lawsuit is moot to the county because it would allow for in-person absentee voting Sunday afternoon.
According to the lawsuit, “inadequate polling facilities” in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach led to lines in some cases between six and seven hours long — longer than elsewhere in the state, the lawsuit says. Voters in line when the polls closed at 7 p.m. were allowed to vote; Miami-Dade checked in its last voter at around 1 a.m. Sunday morning.
“The extraordinarily long lines deterred or prevented voters from waiting to vote. Some voters left the polling sites upon learning of the expected wait, and others refused to line up altogether,” the lawsuit says. “These long lines and extreme delays unduly and unjustifiably burdened the right to vote.”
The lawsuit cites requests made to Republican Gov. Rick Scott to extend voting hours by executive authority. Scott said Thursday night he would not extend the hours, following requests from Democrats and Democratic-leaning groups.
On Friday, Monroe County Elections Supervisor Harry Sawyer Jr., a Republican, sent the governor a letter asking for more hours. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner responded that the reports he was receiving from elections supervisors across the state were positive about early voting.
Scott signed a law last year reducing the number of early-voting days to eight from 14 and eliminating voting on the Sunday before Election Day, which Democrats used to turn out supporters in 2008. The new law guarantees one Sunday of early voting.
The number of maximum hours offered stayed the same on the books, but four years ago, then-Gov. Charlie Crist effectively extended early voting by another 24 hours.
The lawsuit sues Detzner, along with three elections supervisors: Penelope Townsley of Miami-Dade, Brenda Snipes of Broward and Susan Bucher of Palm Beach. The Florida Democratic Party has hired some big-name attorneys: Kendall Coffey, Michael Olin, Bruce Rogow and Seth Miles.
In a statement, party chairman Rod Smith blamed the GOP-controlled Legislature for passing the law reducing the number of early-voting days.
“Because of Gov. Scott’s refusal to follow precedent and extend early voting hours in the face of unprecedented voter turnout in South Florida, we are requesting in federal court that more Floridians have a meaningful chance to early vote,” Smith said.
Separately, the party sued in Orlando circuit court asking to extend early-voting hours in that county after a bomb scare temporarily closed an early-voting site. Sunday morning, a judge ruled that the Winter Park early-voting site should open Sunday, the Associated Press reported.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/04/v-fullstory/3081614/florida-democratic-party-files.html#storylink=cpy