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Thousands in Dade decide to vote early

Early and absentee voting continued to pick up in Miami-Dade as county officials braced for a hectic Election Day.

BY TERE FIGUERAS  Miami Herald  30 October 2004

Tens of thousands of early voters cast ballots in Miami-Dade County on Friday, and election officials processed a flurry of last-minute absentee ballot requests as they headed into the final weekend before the presidential election.

More than 178,000 county residents have voted since Oct. 18, the first day early voting began at the county's 20 sites.

''That's a good thing, and I'll continue to say that's a good thing,'' said County Manager George Burgess, who has urged people to vote early despite long lines and commended the county's ''tolerant and understanding voting community'' for their patience.

Election officials also fielded requests for absentee ballots until noon Friday and had sent out roughly 124,000 ballots, with about 1,000 requests still pending.

Assuming that early voting stays at its current pace, and the majority of those requesting absentee ballots send them back, Burgess estimated that more than 300,000 people will have voted before Tuesday a number he hopes will have ''a significant impact'' on lines and vote processing come Election Day.

As of Thursday night, less than half of those who requested absentee ballots had returned them to the elections department.

Elections Supervisor Constance Kaplan said an increase in the number of absentee ballots returned is expected as Tuesday nears and noted that the department had just received more than a dozen trays of ballots from the postal service on Friday.

Some voters have complained they have not received their ballots in the mail but county officials say there is nothing to suggest problems similar to those in Broward County, where tens of thousands of absentee ballots are unaccounted for.

A printing delay initially slowed down the mailing of the ballots.

Some voters who requested absentee ballots may have opted to vote in person, Kaplan said.

Requesting an absentee ballot does not stop a voter from voting at the polls, and the unfilled absentee ballot does not have to be presented, she said.

The county has poured resources into instilling voter confidence in the election including voter outreach and marshaling 120 ''goodwill ambassadors'' who will be at the polls on Tuesday.

Another effort: A so-called ''parallel test'' of the voting equipment performed by the county's Audit and Management Services and the Office of the Inspector General on Election Day a back-up measure that had been called for by election reform groups.

The testing will be on five randomly ed electronic voting machines set up in the lobby of County Hall far from actual voting sites, election officials noted, to avoid possible confusion.


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