The Dania Dilemma

2000 redux: Voting really is what it used to be in Dania Beach.

Around 10 a.m., poll workers again called Oliphant's office to say that registered Democrats had been voting on Republican ballots and had asked to vote again. According to Horton, Oliphant told them to allow them to vote again when the machines were working. "We called Miriam and asked Miriam, 'Since they dropped it in the box, can they vote on the machines?'" Horton recalls. "She said, 'Well those ballots won't be counted.' But once that box is sealed, we can't open it back up, so we couldn't just take their votes out."

New Timeswas unable to learn whether these ballots were discarded or counted twice.

Things did not improve as the day progressed. Even after the technician arrived at 10:30 a.m., the machines continued to malfunction, Horton says. The technician had to return five times. More disturbing, she says voters complained throughout the day that their votes were registering wrong. "When they voted on the term limits, they'd vote no and it would come out saying yes," Horton says. "You had to punch it three times before it said no. You had to go back and clear it, and then it'd say yes again, and you had to go back and clear it and it'd say yes again, and the third time, after you'd clear it, it'd say no."

Around noon, Horton and the others were getting hungry. The poll workers had all been there since 6 a.m. and expected that someone would bring them lunch, as had happened in elections past. So they waited... for a meal that would never come.

By 3 p.m., word had filtered back to organizations like the NAACP and the People for the American Way Foundation that all was not well at the precincts. These groups only recently settled the lawsuit they brought against Florida after 2000's election problems. So as the day's voting problems accumulated, a slimly attended press conference was held at the Fort Lauderdale NAACP headquarters on Sistrunk Boulevard. There, local and national officials from the above groups and a few others hinted that legal action might again be needed. Although many precincts in Broward County experienced problems, only 4S was named.

Back at Charlie Will Thomas Park community center, things weren't improving. In addition to the malfunctioning machines, 4S was one of voting areas to have been redistricted this year. Some people who had been voting at the community center for years arrived to learn that they had been reassigned to precinct 3S. That polling place was at the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, nearly two miles away.

"I've been voting here for ten years," said Arthur Willis, standing outside the community center at 4 p.m. "Now they're telling me to go to a different place, that I can't vote here. But I don't have transportation. I can't get over there, so I guess I just won't be voting this year." Willis says that the card he received in the mail listed him as a 4S voter.

An Election Protection volunteer, who would not give his name, speculated that Willis had likely received a second card reassigning him to the other place. The volunteer said that many voters did not receive the second cards until just days before Election Day and that some did not get the follow-up notice at all.

"Poll workers should have been able to direct people to the right precinct to vote," said Elliot Mincberg, vice president of the People for the American Way Foundation. "Some poll workers, by no means all, but some poll workers did not follow the law on how to vote. For example, some people were told that if they did not have their ID with them, they could not vote. Even though, under state law, all they needed to do was sign an affirmation saying that they are who they say they are."

Horton says many voters were turned away because of redistricting confusion. "One lady, she lives right there next to the park, and they told her she has to go to Pro Bass. She's in a wheelchair. She said, 'I've been voting here since they first let us vote in 1965.' How's she gonna get to Pro Bass? Somebody gonna roll her over there in her wheelchair?"

Redistricting problems were reported at precincts all over the county and were part of the reason Gov. Jeb Bush ordered the polls to stay open until 9 p.m. "We had six people there, and everybody stayed the whole time," Horton says. "Once you make that commitment, you can't just walk out and leave."

Horton plans to work the polls at 4S again on November 5, but she has a few ideas for making the process run smoother. "They can fix it all in time. The next time, they should have the technician right there when the poll workers come at 6. He could set up the machines right then, and we'd have from 6 until 7 to correct the problems. And they need to make sure they send out the packages, the envelopes, and the boxes and everything, that we have all the right materials."

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