Thousands in South Florida cast early ballots
BY KATHLEEN FORDYCE AND ANI MARTINEZ
Early voting for the Nov. 7 election began this week in South Florida without glaring hitches as thousands of voters got a jump-start to cast their ballots and avoid long lines on Election Day.
Officials reported 9,569 Miami-Dade voters had cast early ballots through today, and 8,300 Broward voters had voted by closing Tuesday. Wednesday's Broward results will be released Thursday.
Dade has just over one million registered voters, and Broward has about 922,000.
''It has been fantastic,'' Miami-Dade Elections Supervisor Lester Sola said. ``Our ability to process voters accurately and at a faster rate really has improved.''
To help keep things running smoothly, everything is done electronically, he said.
Registered voters can swipe their Florida driver's license or have their voter registration cards scanned to verify they can vote, then sign their names on an electronic monitor similar to those used in stores, he said. ''It's easier and better,'' said voter Maria Morales of Little Havana, who voted today at the Stephen P. Clark Center in downtown Miami. ``There are no long lines and no headaches.''
On the ballot are high-profile races for governor and state lawmakers, as well as controversial constitutional amendments.
Broward County voters trickled into quiet rooms and waited in short lines at 20 early voting sites.
''There are no long lines really, except first thing in the mornings and at night,'' said Mary Cooney, a spokeswoman for Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes. ``The weather couldn't be better for voting.''
On Monday, some Broward machines stopped working briefly and had to be restarted because of high-volume use, Cooney said. No votes were lost.
''When some voters went to touch a choice for a precinct or candidate we would have to stop the voter, start again and then it would be fine,'' Cooney said. ``It hasn't slowed anyone down.''
But most voters breezed through without problems.
It was Dottie Krimm's first time voting early, but she said it won't be her last.
''I am going to come to early voting from now on,'' said Krimm, of Tamarac. ``You never know what may happen on Election Day and I don't want to miss the privilege to cast my vote.''
During early voting, people can cast ballots at any of the open sites. On Election Day, they must go to their assigned polling place. Early voting runs through Nov. 5.
In Miami-Dade, early voting hours are from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 30 to Nov. 3. There are 20 sites countywide.
In Broward, polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.
To make sure votes are counted correctly in Dade, members of the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition are watching as polls are closed down. So far, there have been no problems, said coalition president Sandy Wayland, adding the group planned to meet this week to discuss findings from different sites.
''What we do is we watch them close and seal machines,'' she said. ``We want to take a record of what the public count is on the machine and the number of certificates [signed by voters to make sure the numbers match up].''
She said during early voting it's hard to tell if mistakes are made because poll workers count the certificates throughout the day, instead of at the end like they do on Election Day.
In Miami Beach, local politics lured many people to the polls. At stake is outgoing Commissioner Luis Garcia's post.
South Beach resident Dennis Holding was among those who voted at Miami Beach City Hall today. He's heading to Los Angeles on Friday and said he wanted to vote before he left town.
''I voted for those who are favorable towards gay rights issues,'' he said.
For city employee Robert Martinez, voting Wednesday was simply about convenience.
''I might as well do it now when there's nobody there,'' he said.
Some Broward voters complained about groups of people handing out brochures or fliers outside polling places to promote candidates.
''I really don't approve of this,'' said Marvin Bressler of Tamarac, who voted at the library. ''It is just too much.'' ''By the time you've come here you already have made up your mind,'' said Mary Cochran of Tamarac. ``I am just going to throw all that stuff away.''
While some were overwhelmed by the fliers, others were overwhelmed by the wording of various proposed amendments.
''It is just too much,'' said Rickson Scott of Plantation, who voted at the West Regional Courthouse. ``I voted a straight Democratic ticket and voted against all the amendments.''
Michal Jacobson said she did her homework before voting.
''I knew what they stand for and I read about them way before I came to vote,'' Jacobson said. ``That's important before you cast your vote.''