Voters in Miami-Dade County and throughout Florida were forced to wait in extremely long lines in the 2012 elections, as the state cut early voting days which are meant to ease the wait for voters on election day from 14 early days to eight. The result: lines that some voters who braved them said took as long as nine hours to get through — especially in densely populated Miami-Dade County.
Now, when a human being is forced to wait in any one place for hours at a time, inevitably, he or she may need to use a rest room. But Miami-Dade officials have now laid down a new rule preventing voters from using a bathroom, no matter how long they have to wait to vote.
Two years ago, Marc Dubin of South Florida's Center For Independent Living, contacted Miami-Dade election officials to alert them to a problem. Voters with disabilities did not have equal access to bathrooms at many polling places, where they and other voters were forced to wait hours in line.
Dubin said that he expected Miami-Dade to assure him that more portable toilets would be added for voters to use as they endured the long lines that seem inevitable for the November 2014 mid-term elections.
Instead, the county wrote back saying that if voters with disabilities could not use bathrooms at polling places, then nobody could. Starting with this year's election cycle, all publicly available rest rooms at polling places would be locked.
"The Department's policy is not to permit access to restrooms at polling sites on election days," Assistant County Attorney Shanika Graves wrote in a February e-mail.
In August of last year, Miami-Dade election officials wrote to Dubin telling him, "in order to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not treated unfairly, the use of rest rooms by the Voters is not allowed on election day."
"This is the most bizarre response I've ever gotten, that we're going to shut down access for everyone so as not to discriminate," said Dubin, who believes he knows the reason behind the seemingly inexplicable no-bathroom policy.
"This is a very clear way to suppress the vote," he said. "Telling people, 'We have 12-hour lines but you can't go to the bathroom?' You can be guaranteed that people won't come out to vote."
But even if that is the motive behind Miami-Dade closing bathrooms on election days, Dubin says, the policy is still against the law — and not just election laws.
The Americans With Disabilities Act requires publicly accessible rest rooms that can be used by the disabled.
While Miami-Dade is Florida's most heavily populated county, Broward and Palm Beach Counties which rank just behind Miami-Dade in population, have said that they will continue to provide bathroom facilities for voters waiting in long lines.