The nation’s eyes are on Florida once again as a slew of problems with early voting in the state—including lines as long as nine hours—are leading observers to ask whether Florida will be a problem tomorrow, as it was in 2000 when George W. Bush “beat” Al Gore.
Early voting was supposed to make it easier and more convenient for voters, but the opposite is taking place in Florida, where voters have had to wait in painfully long lines because the Republican-controlled legislature last year cut the number of early voting days from 14 to eight—and Gov. Rick Scott refused to extend the early voting hours.
According to the latest polls, Romney may be up by a point in Florida, but that point is within the margin of error.
It got so bad in Miami that after the Miami-Dade elections department decided to open its doors yesterday to allow in-person absentee balloting at its headquarters from 1 to 5 pm, so many people showed up that the department shut its doors after two hours—prompting the people outside to start shouting, “Let us vote!”
Myrna Peralta, who waited with her four-year-old grandson for nearly two hours before being turned away, told the Miami Herald: “This is America, not a third-world country … They’re not letting people vote.”
The elections department later reversed itself and opened the doors again after an outcry erupted on social media.
“We’re looking at an election meltdown that is eerily similar to 2000, minus the hanging chads,” Dan Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida, said to the Huffington Post.
The chaos in Florida prompted the state Democratic party yesterday to file a lawsuit to try to force the state to allow early voting up until tomorrow’s election day in at least three counties—Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach—which account for a third of the state’s voters. The suit alleges “inadequate polling facilities” contributed to long waits in all three places.
As an example, in Miami voters in Miami cast their ballots at 1 am on Sunday even though the polling place official closed at 7 pm on Saturday, meaning some voters were in line for at least six hours.
“The extraordinarily long lines deterred or prevented voters from waiting to vote. Some voters left the polling sites upon learning of the expected wait, and others refused to line up altogether,” the suit said. “These long lines and extreme delays unduly and unjustifiably burdened the right to vote.”
The Obama campaign brought in food, water, local musicians and a DJ to entertain the crowd and keep people from leaving as they waited in the long lines. According to an Obama campaign official, North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre brought 400 slices of pizza to voters in line at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday night at the city’s public library.
Rod Smith, the chairman of the Florida Democratic party, accused Republicans of trying to take away the right of citizens to vote.
“Voting is a fundamental right, and we all have an interest in assuring that all Americans have effective opportunities to vote,” he told the Guardian.
“Florida’s Republican state legislature has already reduced the number of days to early vote by six days. Because of Governor Scott’s refusal to follow precedent and extend early voting hours in the face of unprecedented voter turnout in south Florida, we are requesting in federal court that more Floridians have a meaningful chance to early vote.”
But in response to the hubbub, Gov. Scott tried to point to the positive.
“People are getting out to vote. That’s what’s very good,” Scott said.
“They didn’t have the infrastructure,” filmmaker Lucas Leyva, who was among those turned away, told The Huffington Post. “We read the press release and everything that went out this morning, promising we’d be able to get absentee ballots and vote. We got here and there was a line of hundreds of people all being told the same thing, that that wasn’t true anymore. You could drop off [a ballot], but they could not issue one.”
If getting turned away wasn’t bad enough, ended up getting their cars towed from the parking lot across the street, according to a Miami Herald reporter.
“We had the best of intentions to provide this service today,” department spokeswoman Christina White said. “We just can’t accommodate it to the degree that we would like to.”