The Miami-Dade Elections Department on Thursday finished counting the county's more than 240,000 absentee ballots and provided its results to state officials. Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley said she is embarrassed by some of the things that happened, but she's focused on getting it right.
Nearly two days after the 2012 election, the Miami-Dade Elections Department on Thursday finished counting the county's more than 240,000 absentee ballots and provided its results to state officials, according to Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley.
Miami-Dade’s counting delays helped Florida remain the only undecided state on the electoral map. At a press conference Thursday, Townsley said the challenges faced by the county's elections office would lead to improvements.
"Generally, I think Miami-Dade County conducted a very good election," Townsley said. "Am I embarrassed or disappointed by some of the things that happened? Absolutely, but I have to focus on simply getting it right. And that is exactly what I will move to do."
According to preliminary data released Thursday on the state Division of Elections website, Miami-Dade drew a voter turnout of 883,989 – or roughly 67 percent of the county’s 1.3 million registered voters.
In Miami-Dade, President Barack Obama received 61.6 percent of the votes, compared to Republican Mitt Romney’s 37.9 percent, the election data showed. Excluded from the results Thursday were Miami-Dade’s provisional ballots, which election workers said they planned to start reviewing Friday.
Thursday afternoon, the spokesperson for Florida's secretary of state speculated he won't have full results from the election until Saturday, NBC News reported.
"Best indicator we can give will [be] Sat when recount is called or not," the spokesperson, Chris Cate, said over Twitter.
The Romney campaign will not contest the results in Florida, regardless of the final outcome, a top campaign official told NBC News.
In Miami-Dade, Townsley blamed the delays on the turnout, the large number of absentee ballots received Tuesday and the length of the ballot. It was five pages front and back.
"The incidences that occurred in this election are unfortunate,” Townsley said. “But the fact of the matter is we will use those lessons to improve upon already a very good process."
Since the polls closed Tuesday night, workers counted ballots nonstop, but absentee ballots took longer to tally than ballots from residents who voted in person, officials said. Absentee ballots go through several verification levels before they make it to a scanner, they said.
In Miami-Dade, 242,173 people voted by absentee ballot, the elections office said.
Voters in Miami-Dade stood in lines until the wee hours of Wednesday to cast their vote, even after Obama was declared the winner of the 2012 election. While Florida was still too close to call in the presidential contest, the winners of many local races were already decided.
"The turnout was something that caused us to have to deploy additional resources, additional equipment, and we will learn from those lessons,” Townsley said. “This election really establishes the consequences and the impact of paper in Miami-Dade County. We had the volume to deal with, we had the long ballot to deal with and it's an opportunity to make it right."
The long lines of voters added to a backlog, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said.
"And I want to personally apologize to those people that stood in line that long, for that period of time,” Gimenez said Wednesday. “That's certainly not something that I’m happy with.”
Townsley said an additional 200 voting booths and 400 employees were deployed to assist with the long lines but said they will take a look at everything that happened and figure out more changes that could be made to make voting more efficient.
"We will do a very comprehensive analysis of the activities that took place in this election," Townsley said, adding that an after-action report would guide improvements.
In a memo sent before the election, Townsley alerted the mayor about the long ballot and said she was deploying the maximum amount of voting units, but questioned whether they would be enough.
“The equipment of course that is available is always going to be dependent upon the funding that’s made available based upon the recommendation of the supervisor and what the county commission is willing to make available," said Ron Labasky, an attorney with the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.
Joe Martinez, the outgoing chairman of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, said he doesn't recall them ever cutting down on election funding.
"As a matter of fact, we have overspent. If you can recall when we had the hanging chads and the butterfly ballots in Palm Beach and everything else back in 2000, people wanted the computer system, which we did," he said.
Martinez said the county spent millions of dollars on that system, before it changed to the optical scanners.
When Townsley was asked if her staff was overwhelmed or surprised at the absentee ballot turnout, she said they were prepared.
"We had to deal with a large volume, and we did everything that we could to make it happen," she said. "Over the past three days, we have been managing a 24-hour operation. Our commitment is to deliver convenient and accurate elections to our voters. We will not sacrifice the integrity of this election due to volume."
Friday, election workers intend to start reviewing provisional ballots, which are the paper ballots voters are forced to use if they cannot prove their eligibility at the polls.