On Nov. 2, 2004, 23-year-old Jose A. Martinez waited for two hours in the Miami heat outside of the University of Miami’s BankUnited Center to vote in the general election, along with 1,077 others who battled long lines beginning at 7 a.m. This year, administrators and student organizations are taking measures to ensure a smoother voting process.
“I remember how hot it was, but most of all I remember the million and one political debates I had with people in line, as if we could somehow convince each other to vote for our own candidate,” Martinez said.
The Miami-Dade Elections Department provided only five voting machines for the 2004 election to the site that was designated for 1,737 registered voters and achieved a 62.06 percent turnout.
UM President Donna E. Shalala ordered pizza for the waiting voters, and the university requested extra voting machines from the county. The Department of Elections only delivered additional paper ballots because all of the extra machines had been distributed to other precincts.
Polling place and procurement manager Erica S. Trujillo said that the precincts at the BankUnited Center and St. Augustine Catholic Church have increased the number of privacy booths and optical scanners for this year’s election.
Patrick L. McGrew, the general manager of the BankUnited Center, said he is pleased with the improvements this time around. “We’ve alleviated some challenges from four years ago by requesting 10 voting machines,” he said.
Yet McGrew recognizes that many first-time voters find the voting process difficult, leading to longer wait times.
“I really would like to vote because it’s the first presidential race I get a chance to vote in,” said junior Sean Murray, who added that he is apprehensive about the voting process. “I haven’t heard great things about the last election at the BankUnited Center and if the lines are that long again, I might just let this election pass me by.”
Gilbert Arias, the assistant vice president for Student Affairs, has been working with the presidents of UM Young Democrats, College Republicans and Get Out the Vote to fix the problems that surfaced at the BankUnited Center during the last election.
In 2004, voting took place in the VIP lobby of the BankUnited Center, which caused lines to spill onto the sidewalks. The Hurricane 100 Room will serve as the voting area this year.
“It can contain more people under air conditioning,” McGrew said. “If inclement weather takes place, there will be an overhang and there is a larger area for people to queue up inside while waiting.”
Shuttle routes will pick up voters at both the BankUnited Center and St. Augustine Catholic Church, which serve as polling sites for UM and Coral Gables residents. Arrows on the floor of the University Center will direct students to the buses and signs posted around campus will remind students to carry picture identification with a signature.
Early voting started on Oct. 20 to alleviate traffic on election Tuesday. Times before and after work see the longest lines.
“We can’t hold places in line for students, so we encourage them to vote early,” Arias said. “Last time, at 7 p.m. [when voting officially closes], one of the representatives stood behind the last person in line and was there until 1 a.m.”
From Oct. 23-24 and Oct. 27- Nov. 1, Get Out the Vote agreed to sponsor an early voting shuttle for students who wish to vote before Nov. 4. The shuttle leaves from Stanford Circle to the Coral Gables Public Library, the closest early voting site. The option to vote early began on Oct. 20.
Junior Jason Stevens, the president of UM’s Young Democrats, said he plans on carpooling with friends interested in early voting. “It’s open for two weeks and students can vote at their convenience when pressed for classes.”
All three organizations – UM Young Democrats and College Republicans and Get Out The Vote, a student organization that registers students to vote in Coral Gables – registered close to 2,000 students for the upcoming election.
“We were really happy with the results of registering that many students,” said junior Kristina Rosales, Get Out the Vote’s director. “The efforts paid off so it was nice to work jointly [with UM Democrats and College Republicans].”
GOTV plans to hand out food and refreshments on Election Day at the Rock and the BankUnited Center. The organization will also make announcements in the residential colleges to remind students to vote.
“I would treat a student voting as a legitimate reason to miss class,” said John G. Koger, a professor of political science.
Martinez, who graduated from UM this year and was a freshman during the last election, hopes the problems have been resolved for students this time around.
“Despite the time I spent waiting, the classes I missed and the countless beads of sweat, it was totally worth it,” he said. “Honestly, it’s barely a sacrifice at all when you realize the reward inherent in voting.”
UM voter turnout stats
Voting site: BankUnited Center (Precinct 640)
Nov. 2, 2004
1.737 registered voters
Voter turnout: 62.06%
Nov. 4, 2008
2,202 registered voters
Voting site: St. Augustine Catholic Church (Precinct 612)
Nov. 4, 2008
747 registered voters
Early Voting Shuttle Schedule
Thursday, Oct. 23 and Friday, Oct. 24 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 27 through Friday, Oct. 31 from noon to until 6 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 1 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Polling places open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
To check your registration status, visit http://www.miamidade.gov/elections/ab-status.asp.
To review acceptable forms of identification, visit http://www.miamidade.gov/elections/where_bring.asp.
Information provided by the Miami-Dade County Elections Department and the Office for Student Affairs.