Bomb Threats, Glitches, And Confusion Reported In Florida’s Primary

CREDIT: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

A voter casts a ballot in the primaries at a polling station at the Miami Beach City Hall, Tuesday, March 15, 2016, in Miami Beach, Fla.

MIAMI, FLORIDA — By mid-afternoon in Tuesday’s winner-take-all presidential primary in Florida, a voting rights “command center” had already received more than 200 calls from confused and disenfranchised voters.

Many of the calls came from voters who did not know they had to be registered as either a Republican or a Democrat to participate in today’s closed primary, or who reported the records of their registration were incorrect.

“A number of voters thought they were registered with a party, or wanted to be able to vote even though they’re not registered with that party,” Rosemarie Clouston with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told ThinkProgress. “These folks were confused, upset, and disappointed they couldn’t vote today.”

Nearly a third of Florida voters are registered as “no party affiliation,” and were excluded from the primary process. Some other voters reported that their precinct had incorrect information about their registration. One registered Democrat incorrectly listed as an Independent in Miami-Dade County was able to show proof of his registration and override the error, but others may not have had the documents to correct the counties’ mistakes.

Other problems were reported across the Sunshine State. A bomb threat shut down a polling place in Broward County for nearly two hours. In the city of Apopka, outside of Orlando, two polling places ran out of both Republican and Democratic ballots and began turning voters away.

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump sparked confusion by tweeting that he was hearing reports of his name being excluded from the ballot in several Florida counties.

But the Florida Secretary of State quickly shut these rumors down.

The Election Protection’s call center also received reports that electronic poll books in Orange County malfunctioned this morning, causing extensive waits for voters.

“The voter who called us was able to wait and vote, but reported that some voters got out of line and left the polling place without voting,” Clouston said.

Electronic poll books in all 199 precincts in Duval County also malfunctioned Tuesday morning beginning at 7 a.m. Poll workers then had to look up voters one-by-one in the county’s paper records, causing extensive delays.

“These technical glitches are unfortunately not abnormal,” Clouston said. “Every election we see them. And they usually happen first thing in the morning when a lot of people need to go vote before work. We fear that sometimes those voters are not able to return later to cast a ballot.”

In Florida and across the country, voting machines that are more more than a decade old, that states often can’t afford to replace, are causing headaches for election officials and voters alike. According to the Pew Center, officials in at least 31 states want to purchase new voting machines within five years, but at least 22 of them don’t know where the money will come from. The total national cost of replacing existing machines could exceed $1 billion.

Yet few reports came in of the hours-long lines voters endured in Florida in 2012, which prevented more than 200,000 people from voting that year. Though primary elections generally have much lower turnout than general elections, officials also credited the state’s embrace of early voting for helping things run smoothly on Tuesday.

After the uproar over lines in 2012, Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) restored the early voting days he’d previously cut. Florida voters had 10 days of early voting this year. Turnout for both in-person and early absentee voters broke state records, with more than 1.5 million Floridians casting their votes early. Early turnout increased especially among Hispanic Democrats, a possible indication of a swell of opposition to Donald Trump.