Police to aid in Nov. 5
By Andrea Robinson
October 13, 2002
Faced with a disastrous
mix of inexperienced poll workers, delayed precinct openings and
outraged voters at last month's primary, county officials called
their own cavalry -- the Miami-Dade Police Department -- to restore
order by the Nov. 5 general election.
Police Director Carlos
Alvarez and his staff now find themselves in a baptism by fire,
absorbing unfamiliar procedures and wading through a process
completely new to them.
But, as Alvarez said, ’ÄúWe don't have a
choice. We were given an assignment, and we'll make it work.''
civil-liberties groups and community organizers are unhappy, but
county leaders insist the police department's record of successfully
handling crises makes it the right agency for the job.
''We have to
put this in place, because we have such a short time frame,'' said
County Manager Steve Shiver, the person who named Alvarez as project
In that role, Alvarez is in charge of putting together the
election -- from logistics and transportation to staffing and
What has developed is a ''cooperative''
checks-and-balances system in which Alvarez and the department's
top-level staff meet daily in dozens of meetings with leaders of
several Miami-Dade County agencies. They identify and pick apart
problems that cropped up during the Sept. 10 primary, then look for
workable solutions that must be in place in three weeks.
General Chris Mazzella recommended Alvarez because of his
''logistical expertise'' and experience in crisis management. In
1994, Alvarez was project manager for the Summit of the Americas,
and he was in charge of security during the 1987 visit by Pope John
Paul II. He has played a similar role with other assorted national
events such as the Super Bowl and New Year's 2000.
report noted that given the short time frame, someone with similar
coordination skills was necessary to make sure poll-worker training
is adequate, communication lines are set up and appropriate staff is
in place at the county's 553 polling places to ensure a good
''You have to look at it as another
event that has to be carefully coordinated,'' Mazzella said last
Alvarez said that since Sept. 21, his entire command staff --
three assistant directors and seven division chiefs -- and a number
of their subordinates have worked alongside other governmental
agencies to put all of the pieces in place for this Big Event.
''We're not experts in elections, but we're good at executing a
plan,'' Alvarez said. ``We have a good track record, and we've never
failed. We are going to make sure that people in Dade County are
able to vote.''
What that means is identifying personnel shortages,
tackling minute details such as ensuring precincts have enough
tables and chairs and making sure clerks can enter private buildings
that double as precincts. They also are helping the county's
personnel department with coordinating hundreds of training sessions
for an estimated 10,750 poll workers and technicians.
all the what-ifs. Every day, we're learning something,'' department
spokeswoman Nelda Fonticiella said.
when the elections department's recruitment phone lines jammed with
callers, the police department implemented its reverse 911 system to
place calls. It then grabbed additional bodies from other county
offices to answer telephones.
The biggest use of department staff
will occur around Nov. 4, when hundreds of officers will escort
trucks hauling the 7,200 iVotronic voting machines to 553 polling
places. An officer will be stationed outside those buildings until
the next morning, when a precinct clerk opens up.
They also will
return the computers to storage warehouses when tabulation is
The plan is viewed with skepticism by some
civil-liberties and national voter-rights organizations and local
activists, who say the idea of uniformed police at polling places
brings back memories of the 1950s and '60s, when blacks fought for
the right to vote.
''I hope they won't have uniform officers at the
polls or other things that will be intimidating to voters,''
especially minorities, said Rashad Robinson, director of the
Washington-based Center for Voting and Democracy.
Remains To Be Seen
''The idea [the police department is] coming in . . . and can
do it well remains to be seen,'' Robinson said. ``The police can
mess it up just as well as anyone.''
Local activist Max Rameau, a
frequent police critic, said he was dumbfounded by the idea.
''Police don't do elections. That's what you have an elections
department for,'' he said. ’ÄúGuarding property is one thing, playing
a role in the election is another.''
Police officials are quick to
point to state law, which forbids police officers from entering a
polling place unless they are there to vote. Alvarez said his
officers will not violate that rule.
''This is not a police
function. You won't see us working around the polling places,'' he
said. ’ÄúWe just want this to go OK.''
Also off limits, he said, are
the ballot creation and counting duties that the Election Department
is constitutionally bound to conduct.
attention to election details has caused grumbling from some of his
officers, who say the police director has overcommitted department
manpower to the project in planning and for Election Day.
upsetting to a lot of us when we have so many other things going on.
We originally thought security, coordination and training would be
it,'' an officer told The Herald. The man declined to give his name
for fear of retribution. ’ÄúI've never seen this anywhere else. If
this happened in another country, we'd accuse them of exerting undue
John Rivera, president of the Police Benevolent
Association, said he has heard complaints from some union members
who have been ''inconvenienced'' by the adjustment.
''I have heard
people say this is ridiculous. It goes to show how screwed up our
government is,'' said Rivera, who expressed his own reservations. ’ÄúI
disagree we should be doing this, but we're the best qualified to
handle the job.''
Even Robinson, while skeptical about such use of
police resources, said the idea has pluses given Florida's recent
''The idea of using government personnel who have
specialized skill in crisis management might help prevent small
problems from being bigger ones,'' he said. ’ÄúPeople who have skills
in coordinating large-scale events could move this forward.''