Long Lines for Florida Early Voting

Kendall, Florida Or, if you're in Florida, wait in a long line to vote and complain to the friends you've just made in the line about how bad the economy is.

"I fear a big recession," said 60-year-old voter Abby Jalkower, who waited for hours to vote at a suburban Miami polling place this week. The woman waiting next to her, 47-year-old Sandy Speicher, nodded.

"What if there's nothing left?" Speicher wondered. "What do we do?"

The economic meltdown is preying on them, and some Floridians have responded by voting early. They've been pouring into polling places in record numbers -- some 2 million so far, the number ticking up by the tens of thousands each day.

While casting early ballots has resulted in some glitches in other states, Floridians -- who, you might remember, have a history of election fiascos -- have experienced unusually onerous wait times. Gov. Charlie Crist even signed an executive order Tuesday extending early voting hours to accommodate the masses.

That means plenty of time to make new friends, especially for those in one of the state's longest lines at the regional library in Kendall, a middle-class enclave southwest of the sands of Miami Beach. On Tuesday, the wait time was about 21/2 hours, down from almost twice that the day before.

The line, some 300 strong, started inside the library, near the science fiction section. It snaked past the mysteries, twisted next to the DVDs and through the racks of the bilingual children's library. There were two seating areas for the elderly or disabled, and the line continued out the door, past a boarded-up Chinese food joint and, at times, all the way to the hulking self-storage facility down the block.

"I've been watching the line for a few days now," said Kevin Brown, a 47-year-old self-employed business consultant. He was at the end of the line, munching on an apple and wearing Prada sunglasses. People like to look good when they go out in Miami, even if it's just to stand in line. "I've driven by a few times, and today, it didn't look too bad."

Like almost everything else in suburban Miami, the polling place, and the line, is in a strip mall. It looks like anywhere else in America, sprinkled with Quizno's, Supercuts, Little Caesar's Pizza. But tucked in between the national chains is evidence of the area's true soul -- the successful Caribbean and Latin American immigrants who have moved to Kendall in recent decades.

"I'm worried whether the government of the United States will stay democratic," says Alicia Ruiz, a 55-year-old accountant who said is voting for John McCain because she fears Barack Obama. She has the week off and brought a little notepad with a to-do list of 32 items. First on the list: "GO VOTE." She crossed it out when she got in line.

Ruiz is Cuban-American and said Obama reminds her of Fidel Castro, particularly when McCain supporters accuse him of being a socialist. That's why she's voting for McCain, she says. "I don't want things to turn out like Cuba."

Francisco Albear is 84. He was sitting in a lawn chair in the line and smoking a cigarette. "See this?" he said, pointing at a black patch over his left eye. "I got this when a Communist shot me in 1963 in Havana."

He, too, is a McCain supporter. "Do you believe I would be a Communist?" he asks, and grins as he pulls a silver cross on a chain out of his shirt.

Brown, the man with the Prada sunglasses, moved to South Florida from Jamaica 30 years ago. He's an Obama voter, hopeful that if the Democrat is elected, the world will view America differently.

"After 9-11, we had the whole world behind us," he said. "And we squandered that."

Many didn't start by striking up conversations about politics. Speicher and Jalkower, the two ladies worried about the economy, talked about their kids, the weather (it's been downright polar for Miamians this week, with temperatures dropping into the 50s). But soon, talk became more serious.

Along with two Cuban-American women behind them, they began to describe how their homes had been hit by the economy. Jalkower was laid-off recently as a legal assistant. Speicher is a stay-at-home mom but her husband works for the military. Milly Gonzalez' husband's business as an appliance salesman is down. Diane DeVarona's husband was laid off from his real estate job, and, as a Tupperware saleswoman, she calls herself "the breadmaker, the breadkeeper and the breadwinner." She passed out her business card and told anyone within earshot the company is hiring.

But it was impossible not to comment on the line and the number of voters. "We were just talking about how voting down here is different from up north," said Speicher, who moved to the area from Pennsylvania. Jalkower is originally from New Jersey. "I think people here appreciate the right to vote, the freedom to vote."

Behind Speicher, Milly Gonzalez piped up: "That's because some of us didn't have the right to vote in Cuba."

Said DeVarona, who had been chatting with Gonzalez in Spanish: "My parents were born in Cuba, and there, these lines, they were to eat."


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