Elections supervisor: Miami-Dade vote totals won’t be tallied until Thursday

The Miami HeraldNovember 7, 2012 

Don’t expect election results from Miami-Dade County anytime soon.

The county’s beleaguered elections supervisor told reporters Wednesday night that her employees, still processing thousands of absentee ballots, won’t finish until Thursday.

Supervisor Penelope Townsley acknowledged that mistakes had been made in the elections process, according to Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS4. She spoke after another day during which elections workers fed thousands of pages of ballots into scanning machines.

With the presidential race settled — but Florida still too close to call — Miami-Dade’s lack of final results have left a much-mocked blank spot on the long-decided electoral map.

Earlier Wednesday, the county had said 20,000 absentee ballots still needed to be counted. The office of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued a news release insisting that the “unprecedented length of the ballot” represents “over 100,000 pages that need to be reviewed and verified, one by one.”

“This in no way is representative of any issues or delays, but a matter of unprecedented volume,” the release said, noting that the county’s canvassing board is continuing to examine suspect absentee ballots.

Overall, President Barack Obama had more than 61 percent of the vote in Miami-Dade, or 521,329 votes, while Mitt Romney had 317,382, or 37.6 percent, according to the election department’s website. The county was plagued Tuesday plagued by embarrassing delays and long lines preventing the state to be called for Obama or Romney.

Deputy Elections Supervisor Christina White insisted Wednesday morning that an unusually long ballot and high voter turnout, which was 64 percent, was to blame, not a lack of resources.

“Its not that there were any problems or glitches,” White told reporters. “It’s about volume and paper left to be processed.”

Miami-Dade elections staffers worked overnight Tuesday and through Wednesday to count some 30,000 absentee ballots that had been dropped off or mailed to the Doral headquarters and county government center in downtown Miami at the last minute. The ballots had to be turned in by 7 p.m. Tuesday to be eligible for counting.

Teams of staffers counted 10,000 overnight, but still had another 20,000 to review Wednesday afternoon at the Doral headquarters.

The process is slow and tedious. To start, a dozen elections staffers must electronically compare images of voters’ signatures on absentee ballots with the signatures on the voters’ registration cards. Then the workers must determine whether the ballots have been properly filled out before counting them in scanning machines.

If staffers reject any ballots, they set them aside for the Miami-Dade canvassing board to make the final call. The board, sitting in an adjacent room, consists of the chair, County Judge Shelley Kravitz, County Judge Andrew Hague, and the county supervisor of elections, Penelope Townsley.

The elections office must also count all provisional ballots by 5 p.m. Thursday. White said she did not know the total number of provisional ballots.

Obama won’t lose the lead in Miami-Dade, where his campaign had a massive grass-roots operation. But how the final batch of ballots affects the overall number in Florida remains to be seen — Obama leads by just over 46,000, according to the state election department’s most recent numbers.

The race could still be close enough to trigger a recount in Florida, unless it is waived by Romney, who lost the overall election to the president.

On Wednesday afternoon, the total difference between the candidates hovered just above the .5 percentage point needed to trigger a recount as the final absentee and early voting numbers trickled in across the state. With such a razor-thin margin, no media outlets had called Florida for Obama or Romney.

Overall in Florida, at least 8,307,749 voters cast ballots for president, just under the number cast in 2008, when Obama won handily.

In Miami-Dade, so far, it appears the number of voters who cast ballots for president will be just shy of the 864,636 who did so four years ago.

Lines were so long in some polling places here that the last voter did not leave the West Kendall Regional Library until a few minutes after 1 a.m.

When polls officially closed at 7 p.m. hundreds of people were still waiting to cast ballots in precincts around South Florida, in an election that was marked by long lines and the occasional problem. Even after the networks called the race for President Obama, people in South Florida remained in line.

Voters complained that many stations lacked enough poll workers, scanning machines and privacy booths to address the crowds. Dozens of workers were diverted from closed polling places to others that faced daunting queues, and 150 extra optical scanners were distributed throughout the day.

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