South Floridians swarm polls on first day of early voting

DORAL, FLA. (WSVN) - Early voting has officially kicked off across South Florida.

Residents are expected to turn out in record numbers and election officials said they are prepared for whatever comes their way.

Long lines formed outside North Dade Regional Library, located at 2455 NW 183rd St. in Miami Gardens, early Monday morning — hours before the official start time.

The energy was high outside the polling station for the first day of early voting.

“I was here from 3 a.m.,” said early voter Moureen Beale. “I was waiting to be the first in line, and my friend is second in line.”

In Miami-Dade County, there are 33 early voting locations.

Each day, starting Monday, they will remain open for voting from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

Voters will need a valid photo identification card.

“I feel better walking in, standing in line at 4 o’clock this morning,” said another early voter. “I got to walk in. I can’t send it in. My nerves would, I wouldn’t make it. I got to be there in person.”

“I just think it’s more effective if we come out early and vote,” said early voter Walter Ramsey. “The mail-in ballots should be for the elderly anyway. I’m strong enough to come out and stand in line.”

Voters spoke with 7News and said they were pleased with the process.

“Everybody was very professional. Nobody touched your ballot at all, not even to help you scan it in,” said early voter Betty Bankston. “She goes, ‘No, I can’t touch it. To scan it, you have to push it in yourself.’ I go, ‘OK.’ Because we don’t want no mistakes.”

“The wait was good, no time,” said early voter Milton Bankston.

Others waited in their cars to drop off their mail-in ballots.

“This is our chance for us to have an opportunity to utilize our power,” said early voter Sir Diego Brazil. “We need to know we have power.”

Those who choose to mail in their votes have the option of tracking their ballots in line to make sure it is counted. If there is a problem, voters will have some time after election day to make it right.

“You have until Thursday at 5 p.m. to correct it,” said Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Christina White, “and if you do so by the deadline, then we’re able to process it.”

“This line is probably gonna stay like this all day, which is a good thing,” said Ramsey. “It’s encouraging to see this, because they said we don’t vote, but we’re proving them wrong.”

Long lines were seen in Coral Gables, North Miami and West Kendall. By 6 p.m., election officials said a record 40,000 people had cast their ballots at voting sites across the county.

“We had some modest lines, which is expected in presidential elections with record turnout,” White said.

Ernesto Alvarez showed off his voter sticker and let out a huge sigh of relief, as he and his wife were the last two voters to get in the door before polls closed at the Miami-Dade Elections Department in Doral.

“I decided you know what, I’m going to go there and make sure that my vote counts,” he said. “It was super easy, get the identification, I gave it to the lady, she gave me my ballot, then I cast my vote. It was as simple 10 to 20 minutes, I believe the max, then I’m out.”

People have also started to cast their ballots in Broward County.

7News cameras captured voters standing under umbrellas outside Southwest Regional Library in Pembroke Pines.

Polling locations in Broward also operate from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

7News spoke with some residents about why they chose to vote early.

“Just to get ahead of the rush, you know, obviously seeing what’s going on in Georgia and other places where the lines are pretty long, just wanted to make sure I got out and was efficient as possible,” said early voter Eric Powers.

“As much as I feel mail-in ballots are safe, I didn’t want to take a chance of possibly not getting it in,” said Jeffrey Schane.

Some voters said it took up to three hours for them to cast their ballot.

“I always early vote, but I have never seen early voting like this,” said Cristina Mornelo.

7News spoke with some voters who said they would wait to vote even though the weather was discouraging at times.

“If I have to stand here all day, I’ll do that,” said Jean Augustin. “I have my music. I have my umbrella. I’m good to go.”

“We knew there was going to be a massive turnout. It’s very important,” said an early voter.

In Coral Springs, there was also a significant turnout to the polls.

“A lot of people aren’t working right now, so I did expect a turnout, but regardless of what was coming, I know what I intended to do,” said another early voter.

While some voters didn’t mind the wait, others decided to come back another day.

“I don’t want to stand out in the rain for I don’t know how long because it doesn’t look like the line’s moving yet,” said Steve Lorenz.

Similar stories were heard in Plantation, Pembroke Pines, Sunrise and Tamarac.

Last week, Peter Antonacci, the appointed Supervisor of Elections for Broward County, said he didn’t anticipate any long lines nor did he have a backup plan.

“Outside of maybe Sunday before Election Day, I don’t see there being lines,” he said.

When asked if he had a backup plan, Antonacci responded, “People are gonna have to wait.”

And the voters waited by the thousands.

“We stand in line for tickets. We stand in line for the new Apple phone. Why not stand in line for democracy?” said Kim Hodges.

Aside from long lines, there were some other challenges.

Police were called to Coral Ridge Mall before 1 p.m. because four people who were waiting to vote weren’t wearing masks. After some back and forth between Fort Lauderdale Police and the Broward County Supervisor of Elections, police said the man and three women were allowed to cast their ballots.

Hours later, some of the last voters at that site said it was smooth sailing.

“Lines moved fast and everyone was very efficient,” said Richard Paul.

“It was raining when I got here. I thought that was going to deter people from coming out, but you know, I don’t think that was the case,” said Jean Correa.

If you want to cast your ballot but you don’t want to wait in a long line, election officials have some advice.

“My advice is that you go onto our [Miami-Dade] website and you check out our wait times. The beauty of early voting is that you can go to any one of the 33 sites throughout the entire 14-day period, and so it really makes good sense to go on to the website and choose a site that might be a little bit further for you distance-wise, but if you can walk right in and out that’s really going to be your best bet,” White said.

So far, 2,497,514 mail-in ballots have been received by election officials statewide.

In Miami-Dade, 202,386 have been received and 220,497 have been received in Broward.

In Monroe County, 13,275 mail-in ballots were received.

Residents in Miami-Dade and Broward counties can vote at any early voting site in the county.

Early voting ends on Nov. 1.

To find an early voting site in Miami-Dade County, click here. For wait times, click here.

To find an early voting site in Broward County, click here. For wait times, click here.

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