MIAMI—For nearly an hour on Monday, Alan Herrera stood in a line to cast his early vote for Joe Biden in the heart of one of Donald Trump’s Latino strongholds.
The 33-year-old Honduran American slowly inched closer to the entrance of the John F. Kennedy Library in Hialeah, a predominantly Cuban American city in the coveted swing state of Florida where the president and the former vice president appear neck-and-neck in various polls.
About a dozen people ahead of Herrera waited their turn to go inside the early voting precinct. Roughly three dozen more voters stood behind him, lining the perimeter of the library. Many of them sported Trump-Pence T-shirts, face masks, and hats.
Nearby, a phalanx of Trump supporters waved at cars pulling into the parking lot to drop off mail-in ballots. They flanked a life-size cardboard cutout of their favorite president showing off his bright smile and giving a thumbs up. One of them held up a flag with the same smiling image of The Donald superimposed on the Stars and Stripes.
Herrera joined tens of thousands of voters across the Sunshine State who braved long lines and a volatile political climate amid the coronavirus pandemic to cast ballots on the first day of early voting in Florida.
But despite the overwhelming number of Trump voters around him, Herrera vocalized his disdain for the commander-in-chief with ease. “This guy Trump has been a disaster,” Herrera said. “I have been an independent voter since I was 18. I’ve voted for Republicans before. There is no way I am voting for any Republicans this time around. For the president to be the biggest threat to our country is shameful.”
While Herrera was unfazed by the flag-waving opposition, local officials made clear they were ready to ensure everyone felt safe to vote. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez announced in a Monday afternoon tweet that undercover cops would be embedded at local precincts in the city that played a crucial, divisive role in the 2000 recount that handed George W. Bush the presidency.
“As we enter the countdown towards Election Day, your safety is our biggest priority,” Suarez tweeted. “The City of Miami has increased our police presence throughout the city and we’ve stationed plain-clothed officers at every polling place to keep the peace.”
Yet voters at Miami area precincts were more concerned with a lack of faith in the U.S. Postal Service and the mail-in voting process, which Trump has assailed as being overrun with fraud.
Fearing his ballot would get lost, arrive late, and go uncounted, Herrera said he didn’t want to risk voting by mail. He cited changes to the U.S. Postal Service under Trump ally and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that have led to widespread delays in mail delivery across the country. “I left work early so I could come do this,” Herrera said. “I needed to come, show my face today, and make sure my vote counts.”
Rey, a 25-year-old Trump supporter who was a few voters behind Herrera, told The Daily Beast he gave up on voting by mail after his ballot never arrived despite his requesting it three times from the Miami-Dade Elections Department. He refused to provide his last name and would not give a reason why.
“Mail-in ballot voting is becoming a fraud nowadays,” Rey said. “I have a Trump flag flying in front of my house. Maybe that is why I didn’t get it.”
Rey, who voted for the first time in 2016 and is pumped for a second Trump term, showed up to the precinct decked out in a red face mask emblazoned with Make America Great Again across the front, a matching red MAGA hat, and a white T-shirt bearing the words “Ban Idiots Not Guns” across the chest.
His claims about not getting a mail-in ballot shows how easily Trump’s supporters buy the president’s lie that the fix is in to rob him of his re-election.
Recently, Trump erroneously claimed his campaign’s poll watchers were denied the opportunity to observe voters filling out ballots in Philadelphia when Pennsylvania state law doesn’t give poll watchers the right to do that, according to the Associated Press. Trump also falsely claimed Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney won her New York primary as a result of fraud.
The president has also made wild, outlandish claims that millions of fake mail-in ballots are being printed by foreign countries.
As far as catching the coronavirus waiting in line to vote, Rey said he wasn’t worried. “I would rate the risk the same as the protests that Black Lives Matter and all these people are doing.”
The president’s dubious, unfounded warnings about mail-in voting are expected to turn out conservative voters like Rey in the next two weeks. According to the Tampa Bay Times, about two-thirds of Florida’s GOP voters are expected to vote in person, while Democrats have a monstrous edge in mail-in ballots. NBC Miami is reporting that more than 40,000 people voted on Monday, surpassing 2016 totals for the first day of early voting.
Another Trump voter, Roberto Zavala, stood in line for more than an hour even though he is among the elderly population that is at a higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19. The 78-year-old Cuban American, who wore a thin black Trump 2020 campaign face mask, said he wasn’t worried about catching the coronavirus. “I have always voted at the polls,” Zavala said. “The pandemic and the virus is real. You just have to take care of yourself.”
Since the postal workers union endorsed Biden, people can’t trust that their mail-in ballots will get delivered on time, Zavala theorized. “I’ve heard a lot of things like they end up getting thrown away,” he said.
Roughly 10 miles east of Hialeah, voters casting ballots and dropping off mail-in ballots at the Coral Gables Library expressed similar doubts about the mail service. Michelle Sebree, a snowy-haired voter sporting a white face mask, decided to drop off her and her husband’s mail-in ballots during her lunch hour and had been waiting for 15 minutes to hand the sealed documents to a poll worker checking voters’ IDs.
“I am concerned with the cuts to the post office and that they have taken away a lot of mail boxes,” Sebree said. “I think it is just going to get clogged up if I put in a mailbox. But I didn’t know I would have to wait in line here.”
She said she was not concerned about risking infection. “We are outside,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be inside.”
Dani Boucher, another voter, said she was making her second attempt to drop off her ballot. “I came here around 9:30 a.m. and I was like, ‘Forget it, I will come back during my lunch hour,’” Boucher said. “In the morning, I couldn’t find any parking and had to get to work.”
But she was determined to stick out in the afternoon. “I’ll drop it off in person and track it online,” she said. “If there is any issue, I can check it and fix it by Election Day.”