Democrats in swing states like Florida, where polls suggest their parties’ candidates for state-wide and US Congress have a slight edge, are, we imagine, already bracing to call for recounts as the first in what we imagine will be a rash of election-related delays and malfunctions plague polling places in heavily Democratic districts. To wit, the Miami Herald reported on Sunday that a polling place in northern Miami briefly ran out of ballots on Sunday thanks to “malfunctioning printers”.
The logistical nightmare that followed led to long lines on the final day of early voting, with some voters waiting more than three hours to cast a ballot.
As the sun set on the 14th day of early voting in the largely black neighborhood, more than 200 voters were in a line that snaked around half a block outside the North Miami library. “I would have stayed in line eight hours if I had to,” Joas Laurent, 37, said as he walked out of the library at 7:20 p.m., about three hours after he said he arrived.
Florida has an idiosyncratic system set up for early voting, relying on printers to issue “customized” ballots to each voter based on their home district. In Sunday’s fiasco, the printers stopped working, forcing poll workers to distribute prefabricated ballots. When those ran out, campaign workers scrambled to order more from a local voting district. One seasoned poll worker said Sunday was the only time she could remember Miami-Dade running out of ballots.
Because any voter in Miami-Dade can vote early in any of the county’s 28 early-voting sites, poll workers print out a customized ballot with the state and municipal questions that apply to a voter’s precinct. For some reason, all of the North Miami printers went down at once, White said. Unable to print customized ballots, poll workers had to revert to the contingency plan: unlocking a cabinet with pre-printed ballots for each of the hundreds of precincts within Miami-Dade.
And while the county assured the press that this was only a minor hiccup…
“Nobody waited more than 45 minutes” for their replacement ballot to arrive, she said. “Which I know is a long time.”
…voters who waited out the ordeal complained that, in reality, the wait times were more than four times that.
Francesca Petite, 19, arrived at the North Miami site around 4 p.m. to vote in her first election. She didn’t leave the voting site until 7:45 p.m. “The lines could have been quicker,” she said. But joined by her older sister, Evelyn, Petite said the crowds kept them entertained in line and that volunteers handed out water bottles. “Overall,” she said, “It was a positive experience.”
Why are these delays significant? Because Northern Miami has been one of the busiest areas during a cycle where early voting has risen by more than 150% compared with the previous gubernatorial election in 2014.
North Miami looks to be the biggest stumble in an early-voting cycle that has seen records broken for a gubernatorial election, and a pace that’s approaching what Miami-Dade sees during presidential years. Early voting is up more than 150 percent from 2014 levels. Through Saturday, Miami-Dade voters cast about 504,000 ballots in person and through the mail. That puts turnout at just under 36 percent as Sunday voting began, compared to 21 percent at the same time in 2014.
In 2016, turnout had already topped 50 percent when the final day of early voting arrived. And while the 2018 midterm election isn’t matching the 2016 pace, some early-voting sites in Miami-Dade actually surpassed presidential turnout in recent days.
The Coral Gables library, the busiest of Miami-Dade’s 28 early-voting sites, saw 80 more voters than it did on the last Saturday of early voting in 2016. The Coral Reef and Lemon City libraries both saw roughly 300 more early voters on Saturday than they did two years ago. The North Dade Library in Miami Gardens has the smallest drop-off from its 2016 levels, down just 13 percent from the presidential pace of 2016.
North Miami recently climbed to the Top Five list of Miami-Dade’s busiest early-voting sites, but hasn’t passed its 2016 totals on any day, according to county statistics. Even so, the Elections Department expected a surge of voters Sunday in the Democratic stronghold during the Democratic Party’s traditional “Souls to the Polls” get-out-the-vote effort with churchgoers on the final Sunday of early voting. Numbers released Monday morning showed 1,939 people voted Sunday at North Miami, the busiest day for the site this year and a pace of about 160 voters an hour.
Workers on Andrew Gillum’s campaign swarmed the polling station as the 7 pm close of voting approached, handing out water and pizza to entice voters to stick around for their chance to cast a ballot in the “Desiline Victor Voting Wing,” which was named after a 102-year-old woman who waited for hours in 2012 to vote for Barack Obama amid an epic delay that attracted national attention. Voting continued at the site well after the polls closed at 7 pm, with the line finally reaching zero an hour later.
So far, the story hasn’t attracted much attention from the national press. But if Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and Senator Bill Nelson lose by small margins, expect an epic round of finger-pointing.