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Absentee ballots, long lines a worry

By EVAN S. BENN AND NATHALIE GOUILLOU  Miami Herald   31 October 2004

As national attention continued to focus on South Florida and the question of whether Tuesday would prove to be a repeat of 2000's mess of an election, voters waited as long as five hours to cast ballots early.

But at least they were able to vote. Out-of-town Broward County voters whose absentee ballots were part of a last-minute batch ped off at the post office Saturday had little hope the ballots would arrive in time for their votes to be counted.

The Broward election office took about 2,500 absentee ballots some heading to addresses in Ohio, Arkansas and Nevada to the post office Saturday afternoon for regular delivery.

''We work miracles around here, but this is really asking a lot,'' said Gerry McKiernan, a U.S. Postal Service spokesman, adding that he did not know exactly how many were going out of town.

Nonlocal voters whose ballots were in that batch have little chance of receiving them in time.

''There's nothing we can do about those,'' Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes said. ``Those were last-minute requests that just came in this week.''

But Snipes said she didn't know why they weren't included in a batch of 3,200 absentee ballots sent through FedEx overnight delivery on Friday to voters outside the county.


Miami-Dade elections officials said they are unaware of a widespread absentee ballot problem like Broward's.

Miami-Dade elections spokesman Seth Kaplan said some people who requested an absentee ballot and didn't receive it were sent another one after they called to complain. People out of town were sent their ballots via FedEx, he said.

People can hand-deliver their absentee ballots today to any open early-voting site, Kaplan said. The John F. Kennedy Library in Hialeah will be closed, but the other 19 sites are to be open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. today.

All the Dade early-voting sites are closed Monday except the Elections Department, 2700 NW 87th Ave., and the Stephen P. Clark Center, 11 NW First St. Both will be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday.

On both Monday and Tuesday, absentee ballots can also be brought to the Elections Department or the Clark Center.

Under state law, absentee ballots from within the United States must arrive by 7 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. Overseas ballots must be postmarked by the end of Election Day and will be counted if they arrive before the election is certified.

The Broward election staff received 6,254 absentee ballots Saturday, Broward election worker Mary Hall said, bumping the total number of completed absentee ballots to about 83,000 out of 129,000 that were requested. In Miami-Dade, 55,000 absentee ballots of the 127,421 requested had been received and counted as of Friday.

Early-voting sites may be mobbed on Monday if this weekend is any indication.


More than 400 people were still in line at Hollywood South Regional Courthouse at 2 p.m., an hour before poll workers were to instruct voters to come back another day.

''I guess we want to become national news again, and for all the wrong reasons,'' said Linda Campbell, 58, of Hollywood.

Early voters at the Hollywood site talked about Broward's early-voting situation in contrast with Miami-Dade's.

The two counties both have about 1,058,000 registered voters, but Miami-Dade has 20 early-voting sites, compared with Broward's 14. Every Miami-Dade site is equipped with at least 20 voting machines, while some in Broward have fewer than 10.

Still, in Miami-Dade, voters at the Lemon City Library in Miami said they waited as long as four hours to vote.

''We got in the outside line at 2:30 p.m. and got in [the library] at 3:30 p.m.'' said Raul Quiros who came with friend Dennis Hill as a poll staffer called ``No. 209.''

''I'm No. 439,'' said Hill, a John Kerry supporter. ``We're tired, but we're going to stay the course.''

Nearly an hour after No. 209 had been called, Hill and Quiros still hadn't voted.


Many people picked up books and settled like studious college students planning to spend a long time at the library.

Kevin Keogh said he spent some of his three-hour wait sleeping on the floor, studying the numerous constitutional amendments on the ballot and creating a cheat sheet.

Although he had planned to vote early, Keogh said he was upset because he was sent two voter cards with different voting sites.

'What if I had waited until the last second, and I go to the first place and they tell me, `Oh sorry you have to go to the other one,' '' Keogh said. ``I wouldn't have voted.''

Election Deputy Supervisor Milton Collins said about 1,200 people voted at the library on Saturday.

Kaplan didn't yet have the number of Saturday voters in Miami-Dade, but he predicted this weekend's turnout would be more than last weekend's 16,968 voters.

The lines, Kaplan said, were Saturday's only glitch.

''When the worst thing you can talk about are long lines rather than issues with machines and personnel, that means we're having a pretty good election,'' Kaplan said, adding that poll staffers and volunteers had tried to make the wait less unpleasant by giving out free bottles of water.

He said he hadn't heard about the lengthy three- to four-hour wait that people at the Lemon City Library said they went through. He estimated that the waiting time at most sites in Miami-Dade was about an hour.

''I was recommending to people they might save some time by going [to the Clark Center]. That's the one where we have the most room and the most machines,'' Kaplan said.

In Plantation in Broward County, some voters arrived before the sun at the West Regional Courthouse, even though the polls didn't open until 10 a.m.

By 8:30 a.m., more than 100 people had lined up.

''What do you do?'' shrugged Eve Christie, a Plantation resident who arrived at the courthouse at 6:40 a.m., still not early enough to be at the front of the line.

Christie, who had broken her foot during one of this season's hurricanes, said she called the election office three times to request an absentee ballot. She never got one.

Herald writers Rebecca Dellagloria, Kevin Deutsch, Jeannette Rivera-Lyles, Amy Sherman, Darran Simon, and Linda T. Streitfeld contributed to this report.


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