MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The counting of absentee ballots at Miami-Dade Elections headquarters has finally wrapped up.
“I’m pleased to announce that Miami-Dade County is the first of the large counties to complete it’s tabulation process,” announced Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley just after noon.
Townsley has received some criticism over the long lines and wait times during the election and the amount of time it has taken to tally the ballots. The exhausted Supervisor admitted the election didn’t go the way she had planned.
“Generally, I think Miami-Dade conducted a very good election. Am I embarrassed, disappointed by some of the things that happened? Absolutely,” said Townsley.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez pointed out that the department was inundated with absentee ballots over a 48 hour period.
“An unprecedented number of absentee ballots were dropped off on Monday and Tuesday, over 55,000 were dropped. That was the delay,” said Gimenez.
Townsley said her team received 31,500 absentee ballots on Election Day alone that had to be processed one by one.
“This is simply a matter of sheer volume. We are dealing with a tremendous amount of paper.” said Townsley.
The large voter turn out, history making long ballot and shortened period to vote early created a ‘perfect storm’ not just in Miami-Dade but in major cities across the state. Some cities are still counting votes.
“This is what we said was going to happen,’ said Maribel Balbin with the League of Women Voters.
The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan group, actually sued in an effort to prevent what happened from happening.
House Bill 1355, which was supported by Republicans and Governor Rick Scott, was passed last year. The 150 page bill included a number of reforms including cutting early voting from 14 days to 8 days.
The measure was meant to cut down on fraud.
“All the legislation was drafted based on that perception,” said Balbin.
“Someone was going to steal the election,” asked CBS4’s David Sutta.
“Something was going wrong,” said Balbin.
One of the main architects of the bill was Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. Messages left for him by CBS4 have gone unreturned. So where are the sponsors?
“I don’t know. This was very popular. I mean the votes were there,” said Balbin.
The reality is that the reform is not so popular now.
“Okay, we tried it,” said Balbin. “Can we go back to the drawing board?”
While the outcome of the ballot count will not affect the presidential election, there are still two local races too close to call: Erik Fresen versus Ross Hancock for state representative of a district in the Coral Gables area and Bruno Barreiro versus Luis Garcia for a county commission seat.
In addition to the races, the perception nationwide that Florida is the only state which has yet to complete its election results could have another negative impact. Phillis Oeters, Chairwoman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, said it could affect business here.
“We have to work extra hard then to convince businesses to move here,” said Oeters.
Even President Barack Obama mentioned Florida in his victory speech.
“Whether you voted for the very first time, or waited in line for a very long time, by the way we have to fix that,” said Obama.
Townsley said she plans to put forth her own changes.
“We will probably make recommendations for our Florida legislature,” said Townsley.
Oeters said the Chamber of Commerce will urge local and state leaders to take action and fix whatever went wrong on Election Day.
“Our vote in our state was irrelevant in the conversation last (Tuesday) night,” said Oeters. “We need to be taken seriously by the federal government.”
Gimenez said he plans to ask Governor Rick Scott to open more early voting sites and limit the length of the ballot for the next election to hopefully prevent delays like this.