Long lines await early voters

Published: Monday, November 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 31, 2004 at 11:18 p.m.
MIAMI - Undeterred by imposing lines at early voting locations Sunday, citizens used portable televisions and radios to monitor football games, carried coolers and chairs for sidewalk picnics or spent the time catching up on their reading.
At Miami-Dade County's elections department office, one of 19 early locations used Sunday in the state's second-largest pocket of registered voters, hundreds of people prepared to wait more than four hours to vote, shuffling slowly through a line snaking along the side of the mammoth warehouse building.
Dozens of cars lined the street adjacent to the building 90 minutes before Sunday's early voting period began.
By mid-afternoon, the street was jammed and a nearby parking lot was filled with hundreds more vehicles.
Many would-be voters saw the line, shook their heads, and left.
"It's hard for me to come on Tuesday, so I wanted to beat the rush and vote today," said Theodore Manuel, 49, a lawn service company manager who said he's tried twice to vote early, only to be thwarted by the long lines each time.
"Looks like the rush beat me," he said. Since polls opened Oct. 18, Democrats and Republicans have pressed supporters to vote early in Florida, a critical swing state where polls suggest the race between President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry is a dead heat for the state's 27 electoral votes.
More than 1.8 million Floridians have cast their ballots through early or absentee voting - nearly 2 times the number of people who voted early in 2000.
Early voting ends today. Frustration levels, like the early turnouts, have been high. Across the state, long lines have been the norm; waits of five hours or more have been reported in several counties.
"It's been the same problem every day," said state Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, who observed the lines of frustrated voters in Palm Beach County on Saturday. "Our supervisor, unfortunately, did not plan for enough pieces of equipment to screen people and enough pieces of voting equipment and enough locations."
Absentee ballots haven't been foolproof, either.
The U.S. Postal Service said Sunday it's preparing to deliver more than 8,000 absentee ballots that were dropped off Saturday at processing centers by elections officials from Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Broward mailed more than 2,500 ballots; Palm Beach officials brought more than 5,500 ballots to processing centers, making drops as late as 6 p.m.
Workers immediately processed those mailings, but there were no Sunday deliveries for regular mail. Carriers planned to deliver the absentee ballots Monday; for those ballots to count, they must be returned to county offices by Tuesday night's deadline.
Postal officials said most of the last-minute ballot mailings were to local areas, but others were sent to places like Las Vegas, Orlando and New Orleans - and chances were slim those could be returned in time to count.
"Postal officials are encouraging voters to complete and return their ballots as early as possible on Monday so that they are in the mailstream in time for delivery to county election boards on Tuesday," said Azeezaly S. Jaffer, the postal service's vice president of public affairs and communications.
The rate of absentee returns across the state have been heavy, leaving officials in some counties uncertain they'll be able to count all the mailed-back ballots before Tuesday night. In Lee County alone, nearly 80,000 ballots were requested - about 300 percent more than were wanted in 2000 or 2002.
"We're going to make every attempt to get the majority of them done," Sharon Harrington, Lee County's supervisor of elections, told the Naples Daily News for a story in Sunday's editions.
Jill Caballero, 20, a journalism student from Hollywood, said she wouldn't mind if the counting of votes takes longer than planned on election night.
"That would be OK. There is nothing that says we have to know right away," said Caballero, who was among hundreds waiting four hours or more to vote at a Broward County courthouse on Sunday.
Dr. Myles Keiger, a Hollywood plastic surgeon who waited near Caballero to cast his ballot, agreed.
"It's better to be right than fast," he said.

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