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Swell of Florida voters brings some Election Day weirdness

Mohammed Hussein, 24, right, and his father, Helmi, 75, walk into Precinct 655 to cast their votes for Hillary Clinton at St Catherine's Episcopal Church in Temple Terrace on Tuesday. "I was going to vote for Trump," Mohammed said, "But at the last minute changed my mind. His last speech, the way he was talking, it was not too professional. I thought he would do a good job, but the way he speaks changed my mind completely." The Husseins are Palestinian, and the family has been in the US since the early 90s. [Will Vragovic | Tampa Bay Times]

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Mohammed Hussein, 24, right, and his father, Helmi, 75, walk into Precinct 655 to cast their votes for Hillary Clinton at St Catherine's Episcopal Church in Temple Terrace on Tuesday. "I was going to vote for Trump," Mohammed said, "But at the last minute changed my mind. His last speech, the way he was talking, it was not too professional. I thought he would do a good job, but the way he speaks changed my mind completely." The Husseins are Palestinian, and the family has been in the US since the early 90s. [Will Vragovic | Tampa Bay Times]

TALLAHASSEE — After a record 6.5 million people in Florida had voted early or by mail, 3 million more showed up at 6,000 precincts on Tuesday, swelling the unofficial turnout to 9.5 million, the highest ever for a Florida election, with returns not complete.

In the last presidential election four years ago, 8.5 million Floridians cast ballots. The statewide turnout was 71.5 percent.

Hillary Clinton's firewall of support from women, black and Hispanic voters was thwarted by huge election-day turnouts in Republican-leaning counties such as Duval, Manatee, Marion and Pasco that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump.

Ed Bartles, 49, pulled up in his pickup truck trailing a gigantic Trump flag and voted in St. Petersburg.

"Over the last eight years, racism has been re-created, which is sad," Bartles said. "Mr. Trump would change that. ... I'm not even sure how a criminal can run for president."

Bartles, who owns a landscaping business, said he opposes illegal immigration and said he was excited to vote for a political outsider.

"You can't buy him," Bartles said of Trump.

Four years ago, Miami-Dade voters stood in line for up to six hours after the Republican-controlled Legislature limited early voting to eight days.

But most large counties took full advantage of a new law that allowed up to six more days of early voting. That produced an historic wave of early and first-time voters, especially in Miami-Dade, the state's largest county, where Hispanic and black voters swelled the early turnout to nearly 800,000, or 56 percent of all county voters.

While voting went well in most places Tuesday, Florida lived up to its reputation for Election Day weirdness.

In Palm Beach County, a man who voted for Clinton and a woman handing out Trump literature got into a heated argument at a Jupiter community center. A fight ensued, she pepper-sprayed him and he knocked her to the ground, the Palm Beach Post reported.

In Broward, two poll clerks, one Democrat and one Republican, were fired and sent home after complaints of voter intimidation.

"They wouldn't adhere to our policies and procedures so they had to be let go," said Broward elections spokesman Tonya Edwards.

In Pinellas, at least 10 scanners that record ballots broke down and were replaced because ballots jammed in machines.

Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark used an unusually long 19-inch ballot so all races and ballot questions could fit on one card, rather than on two.

"People have a tendency to push the ballot into the scanner," Clark said.

She said jammed ballots are nothing new. Pinellas last used a 19-inch ballot in 2010, and some voters weren't used to it.

Other counties use a 14-inch legal size ballot card.

Gayle McGinty of Seminole wrote on Facebook that she saw ballots jamming in machines and called Clark's office.

"One woman had a ballot jam three times," McGinty wrote. "If you see something, say something."

Hillsborough election officials and a watchdog group say only a handful of voters experienced problems.

"We have had a few instances where the scanners were jamming in the morning, mostly because voters were trying to put the second page of the ballot in too quickly," said Hillsborough elections spokeswoman Gerri Kramer. "Most of these were resolved really easily with a restart but one or two were replaced with new machines."

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law reported "nothing nefarious or violent" at Hillsborough precincts, said Jennifer Bronson, a spokeswoman.

Pasco County reported no voting problems, as voters said they felt their voices had to be heard.

"I feel like I can't judge whichever administration is in office unless I voted, regardless if I win or lose," said George Rodriguez, 28, an insurance sales manager voting in Wesley Chapel. "If you remain speechless during voting time, you should remain speechless the next four years."

Hundreds of FSU students jammed a polling place near the state Capitol in Tallahassee and were allowed to update their legal addresses and vote without casting provisional ballots.

But in Palm Beach County, Janelle Kangaloo, a 21-year-old senior at Florida Atlantic University, said she was forced to cast a provisional ballot after changing her address from her Kissimmee home to a dorm at FAU's Boca Raton campus.

A first-time voter and Clinton supporter, she said she never got the mail ballot she had requested, so she changed her address Monday.

"I was upset," she said. "I went through a lot to make sure I could be able to vote."

For some Florida voters, Tuesday didn't come soon enough.

AP Florida reporter Tamara Lush tweeted the sentiments of a voter who left the precinct and said: "No comment. I'm so damned glad it's over."

Times staff writers Tony Marrero, Claire McNeill, Josh Solomon and Kathryn Varn and Miami Herald staff writer Amy Sherman contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com. Follow @stevebousquet.

Swell of Florida voters brings some Election Day weirdness 11/08/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2016 10:23pm]
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