Voters in 23 cities, towns and villages in Broward and Palm Beach counties had a chance to show confidence or move to reshape their local governments this week — and most responded with a shrug.
Turnout was just 8.14 percent in Broward on Tuesday, which works out to fewer than one in 12 registered voters participating in the nine municipalities with elections.
Deerfield Beach had the county's highest turnout — 12 percent — spurred by a contentious mayor's race. Unofficial results Wednesday had Mayor Peggy Noland trailing former Mayor Jean Robb by 27 votes out of 5,519 votes cast, close enough to trigger an automatic recount under state law.
It was a bit better in Palm Beach County, where turnout was 10.9 percent. About one of every nine registered voters showed up in the 14 communities that held elections.
The highest turnout in the two counties was 13.7 percent in Delray Beach, which had a blistering hot race marked by big money and negative campaigning. The acting interim mayor, Tom Carney, was defeated by lawyer and developer Cary Glickstein.The abysmal turnout comes just four months after 68 percent of the region's registered voters went to the polls during the presidential election, producing hours-long waits in some locations.
"I wish I could explain it," said Jerry Taylor, who was elected Boynton Beach mayor on Tuesday. "I just don't understand. You'd think people would be interested. People seem kind of apathetic about the elections."
Elation at his victory – Taylor won his fifth term as mayor – was tempered by the 9.3 percent turnout. Not all his terms were consecutive; most recently, he's been an appointed city commissioner.
Diane Wendt, a community activist in Oakland Park, lamented her city's below-average 7.22 percent and the general lack of voter interest.
"It's apathy. They don't think that their one vote is going to make a difference. They don't keep up with the issues, so even if they did go vote they don't think they'll vote intelligently, so they just don't vote at all," Wendt said.
It was the same in most of Tuesday's elections. Pompano Beach Mayor Lamar Fisher was re-elected with 84 percent of the vote in an election that drew just 10.3 percent of the city's voters to the polls. Without contentious issues or controversies, that's about what Fisher expected.
"You always want to have a better voter turnout because you want to make sure every party's heard," but that doesn't usually happen unless there's a "hot, burning issue," he said.Low turnout isn't necessarily bad, said Scott Spages, a civic activist in Davie. "I would much rather elect my mayor and council with 10 very informed voters showing up, than 100 low-information voters being herded in. A larger turnout does not in any way sanctify or give more credibility to an election," he said.
Many Broward cities have moved their elections to November. Pompano makes the switch in 2014, and Fisher said that should boost his city's turnout. On Tuesday, voters in Oakland Park decided to move future city elections to November. Voters in Lake Worth decided to switch from November to March.
November elections aren't a panacea, said Spages, who plans to work against a proposal to move Davie's elections to the fall. In November, "The local elections get buried in the bottom of the ballot and nobody's paying any attention to them. You get people voting in them who don't know what they're voting on."
Only a few incumbents were defeated on Tuesday. In addition to Carney and possibly Noland, voters ousted Miramar Commissioner Troy Samuels and Plantation Councilman Peter Tingom.
In Sunrise, results aren't yet known. Just eight votes separate the top two finishers in a seven-way race for City Commission, so it gets an automatic recount.
Newly re-elected mayor says he won't quit to run for office next year on SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics.
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Turnout on Tuesday
Broward County, 8.14 percent.
Coconut Creek, 5.07 percent.