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South Florida endures lines, foul-ups on Election Day
SunSentinel.com. November 4, 2008. By Alexia Campell, Jerome Burdi, Andrew Ba Tran, Rafael A. Olmeda and Anthony Man

South Florida's presidential Election Day included some reports of technical foul-ups and long waits, but went smoothly overall despite heavy turnout.

Polls closed at 7 p.m., with fewer than 100 voters in line in Broward County at the time. At 6 p.m., the waiting time at Miramar City Hall was 15 minutes; during early voting, the site had four- and five-hour lines stretching for blocks.

"Based on what I know and the reports I've gotten, the day has gone smoothly," said Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes. She said she had "no idea" how many voters had cast ballots today.

By about 8 p.m., 95 percent of the polling sites were closed, said Evelyn Hale, Elections Office spokeswoman. "Everything is good and there's no glitches," she said. At the remaining 5 percent, the lines were minimal, she said.

Meanwhile, a three-judge canvassing board in Broward County had rejected 1,102 absentee ballots by early evening. Most were rejected because the voter did not sign the envelope as required under state law.

About 115,000 absentee ballots were received in Broward. About 103,000 have been counted so far.

In Palm Beach County, elections officials posted results of absentee ballots 38 minutes after the polls closed.

The first reports: 97,900 ballots cast in the presidential race, with Barack Obama taking a commanding 56 percent of the vote to Republican John McCain's 43.2 percent.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning declared the 2008 election a success.

"This is a great day for Florida elections. We've seen historic levels of voter turnout, and over 7 million registered voters successfully transitioned from touch screen to optical scan machines."

"On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, I'd give it a nine," Browning said. "With the reforms Florida has made, and with the mission patently clear to county supervisors, we have moved very far away from 2000. I think tonight is evidence of that."

At a 8 :30 p.m. news conference, Browning said polling sites in Orange, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Broward counties went into overtime because there were lines when the polls closed at 7 p.m.

He said sporadic glitches will be examined, such as why some scanners had paper jams and some memory cards malfunctioned. "We need to get to the point where you aren't holding your breath when the polls open," he said.

Browning credited early voting with relieving a lot of pressure on Election Day. Without the more than 4.3 million voters who cast ballots through early voting and absentee, the lines could've been longer and more chaotic, he said. "I think early voting played a huge part," he said.

A Fort Lauderdale voter, Kelly Arndt, 45, voted with her husband and brought her 7-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son. "It was a pleasure. We walked in and out," she said.

In Deerfield Beach, Nancy Theodore, said she didn't make it to vote until 5 p.m., and it turned out fine. "My voting experience was perfect. I was in there about 10 minutes - not even [that]."

Problems reported

By midday, voters e-mailed or phoned complaints to SunSentinel.com about numerous technical malfunctions at polling locations in Margate, Weston, Fort Lauderdale's Coral Ridge Mall and Trinity Lutheran Church and other locations. At Olsen Middle School in Dania Beach, the waiting time swelled to more than two hours.

"You always have hickups because you are dealing with paper, people and machines," Snipes said.

In Hollywood, witnesses said a large group of voters at the David Park Community Center in Hollywood became outraged when voting machines kept rejecting ballots.

Polling site supervisor Shamid Mathura said it appeared that a batch of about 40 paper ballots had one proposed change to Florida's constitution printed twice. Known as Amendment 3, it would allow the Legislature to give tax breaks to property owners who harden homes against hurricanes or install renewable-energy technology, such as solar panels.

Snipes said the number of Amendment 3 problems numbered about 20 and was not widespread. She said those ballots were segregated and will be counted separately so there will not be duplication.

Mathura said he believes the machines did not count double votes on the amendment, but doesn't know how the snafu occurred. The Broward Election Supervisor's office is investigating, said spokeswoman Evelyn Hale.

Hale said the office has 40 technicians standing by to work on the voter verification machines, and another 12 technical assistance teams to fix any problems that arise with the optical ballot scanners, office spokeswoman Evelyn Hale said.

By midmorning, Hale said technicians had been sent on 58 service calls to fix broken or malfunctioning machines, including a voter verification machine malfunction at Holly Springs Village, precinct G023.

Meanwhile, people at one precinct reported that there were no signs alerting voters that to attorney Mardi Anne Levey, running for Broward Circuit Judge in Group 3, had to fill in the bubble for incumbent Judge Pedro Dijols, whom Levey narrowly defeated in the August primary.

A court decision put Levey on the ballot after Broward election officials already had mailed out 200,000 absentee ballots bearing Dijols' name.

As a compromise, Snipes agreed that a vote for Dijols would count for Levey, who faced attorney Bernard Bober for the seat. Snipes also said announcements would be posted in polling places, notifying voters of that fact.

But when David Goldstein went to vote at Virginia Shuman Young Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale, he did not see any such signs posted on the walls and in only a few of the voting booths.

Goldstein said he talked to one of the poll workers, who didn't know about the requirement. "He did call someone, and that person told him to photocopy one of the signs he did have and put up the copies. But he said he didn't have a photocopier."

"This is a big problem. You are disenfranchising people from voting who they want to vote for," said Goldstein, a 58-year-old business owner.

He later called the candidate's office, and received a call back from Levey. "She was quite perturbed, to say the least," he said.

Hale acknowledged a "couple" of polling booths were lacking the Dijols-Levy notices. Stand-up privacy booths had the notices at those sites, but some tables where voters could sit down at to fill out ballots were missing them. Poll observers saw the problem and told election workers, who added notices "immediately" after, Hale said. "There were a couple of precincts [with the issue], but not a lot," she said.

Meanwhile, at Coral Ridge Mall, the wait grew two to three hours for some voters because of a malfunctioning ballot scanner.

State Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Fort Lauderdale, said the wait to vote was about 20 minutes, but the wait to scan the ballot into the one machine available was more than an hour. That scanner broke down intermittently.

Ultimately, there were three lines to vote, to scan the ballot and to leave the ballot in a lockbox if you didn't want to wait for the scanner.

"With all these lines, it is like Disney World around here," Seiler said.

"It was one of those situations where the machine got jammed because of bent paper," said Hale. The machine was replaced with two others and the problem has been resolved, she said

Palm Beach County, whose snafus in the 2000 election made it a national laughingstock, was one of two Florida counties where a polling place was late in opening today, state officials reported.

One location opened late because a room with equipment was locked, and there were paperwork problems at another, said Kathy Adams, spokeswoman for the county Supervisor of Elections Office.

She was not sure of the exact locations.

"Of over 450 polling sites, that's not bad," Adams said. "One a half hour late and one an hour late. People are going to have things happen."

Also in Palm Beach County, officials said some optical scanners at polling places are not accepting ballots because voters are not filling out the second page, which contains proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution.

Pollworkers then must "manually override" the machine and enter the vote by hand, county administrator Robert Weisman said.

Under mostly overcast but rainfree skies, and with long lines of voters often waiting patiently outside, polls opened at 7 a.m. in a high-stakes contest that will choose the nation's next president, a new House of Representatives, much of the Florida Legislature and a multitude of county and municipal offices.

At 7:10 a.m., the Broward Supervisor of Elections office reported all 550 polling stations in the county up and running.

"We think we're going to have a good day," said Snipes, who was expecting 400,000 Broward voters to cast their ballots today.

"And one of those will be me," she said.

Early risers hit polls

Many in South Florida didn't wait until Election Day to make their choices: More than one out of every three voters in Broward and Palm Beach counties already had cast a ballot before the polls opened today, making the election historic no matter who wins.

In the predawn darkness, voters gathered at many polling places before they opened for business.

At Everglades Elementary School in Weston, 20 people had arrived by 6:30 a.m., including a dentist hoping to vote before he performed a root canal.

More than 30 people were lined outside the Wallace J. Merriett Recreation Center in Fort Lauderdale's Osswald Park, among them Fernando Acuna. The 43-year-old software product manager said he had come early to avoid longer lines later in the day.

"I was excited to see that Americans have taken an interest in where we're headed.," Acuna said. "It's a historic election, and I think everyone wants to voice their opinions."

Another person in line, James McCall, 26, said "it's almost like Christmas morning." He had only slept two hours the night before, McCall said.

Staff writers Juan Ortega, Sallie James, Brittany Wallman, Scott Wyman, Diane Lade, Joel Marino, Josh Hafenbrack and Ihosvani Rodriguez contributed to this report

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