As the 2012 presidential election in
Miami-Dade County spirals into calamity, alcalde fuerte Carlos
Gimenez is doing nothing to stop another embarrassing, national
indictment of our Banana Republic's voting system. Despite long lines of voters who waited two-to-six hours to cast
their ballots during the eight days of early voting, Gimenez -- a
Republican -- informed the Miami Herald he had no intention of
asking Gov. Rick Scott to add hours.
Then on Sunday, Gimenez temporarily
blocked more than 200 voters, many of them Barack Obama supporters,
from casting absentee ballots at the Miami-Dade
elections department headquarters in Doral.
The mayor, who was elected and reelected in nonpartisan races, didn't return a voicemail I left on his cellphone to talk about the catastrophe at the polls. According to the Miami Herald, Gimenez's initially stopped the last-minute Sunday voting -- which his deputy mayor, Alina Hudak authorized -- because he had not personally signed off on it.
In response to an 11th hour lawsuit filed by the Florida Democratic Party to extend the early voting period, Miami-Dade Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley wanted to give voters the opportunity to cast absentee ballots at the main office on Sunday; which is allowed under state election law. Townsley got approval from Hudak, the Herald reports.
Gimenez told the Herald he only found out about the extended voting when people were already waiting in line after receiving a call from his daughter-in-law.
CBS4 investigative reporter Jim DeFede tweeted that he spoke to Hudak, who said she did not inform Gimenez in advance. "I made a bad call," she told DeFede, who also criticized the mayor's reaction.
"Story reveals Gimenez to be a bureaucrat, not a leader," DeFede tweeted. "Bureaucrats worry about procedures. Mayors worry about people."
Elections department spokeswoman Christina White initially claimed the office had been overwhelmed by the throng of voters. But when county officials tried to turn away the crowd standing in line, many began to chant: "Let us vote! Let us vote!" Some people banged on the locked glass doors.
That's when Gimenez relented and allowed the absentee voting to continue. Banana Republican's guess: One of the mayor's advisers reminded Gimenez about the 2000 presidential election debacle when GOP operatives imported from the Midwest intimidated and harassed the Miami-Dade canvassing board into cancelling a hand recount, sealing George W. Bush's narrow victory over Al Gore.
A local Republican Party operative, on the condition of anonymity, told me Gimenez is trying to play both sides. My source notes the Florida Democratic Party is represented by Miami lawyer Kendall Coffey, who was also Gimenez's attorney when County Commissioner Joe Martinez sued to overturn the Aug. 14 mayoral election on allegations that Gimenez's campaign engaged in absentee ballot fraud.
The source also added that several of Gimenez's campaign consultants are working on passage of the $1.2 billion school bond issue, whose champion, Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, has been clamoring for more early voting hours.
"Gimenez knew what was going on," the source said. "That this was solely Alina Hudak's decision is bullshit."
Bolstering the source's claim is a press release the mayor's office of communications issued at 9:33 a.m. Sunday announcing the elections office would open at 1 p.m. for on-site absentee voting. In addition, workers from Democratic congressional candidate Joe Garcia's campaign came to the elections HQ prepared for the masses, handing out bottled water and pretzels. Obama volunteers set up a table too.
When the absentee voting resumed, I interviewed some of the voters Gimenez almost disenfranchised, including a couple of county employees.
Larry Lowe, a Miami-Dade water and sewer worker, said he received a robocall from the Obama campaign around 1:30 p.m. to go to Doral. On Saturday, Lowe had given up on voting after waiting in line for two hours at the North Miami public library to cast his ballot.
"I've had the flu for the past two weeks," Lowe said. "It was too damn hot on Saturday. I couldn't stand up anymore so I had to leave."
Allison Norris, a blonde woman in her 20s, goes to law school at the University of Miami full-time so she couldn't make it to an early voting site before Sunday.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Miami New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Miami's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"I can't wait in line for six hours so I didn't try," she said. "I saw someone post about the absentee voting on Facebook so I came here."
Dorsena Armstrong, a Miami-Dade bus driver from Miami Gardens, said she too avoided early voting because of the long lines. On Sunday, she changed her mind.
"I didn't want to give up," Armstrong said. "I need to vote."