Low turnout. Quick results. No reported problems. Those were the themes Tuesday in local government elections in Broward and Palm Beach counties – the first voting since last year’s problem plagued midterm elections that made South Florida a national laughingstock.
Voters in 23 cities, towns and villages in the two counties picked new mayors, commissioners and council members, and decided on a range of referendum questions.
Low turnout, quick results
Turnout is almost always low in March municipal elections, and it was again on Tuesday.
Of the 438,829 people registered to vote in the Broward communities with elections, unofficial voter turnout was 9.49 percent. Palm Beach County’s elections website didn’t break out turnout.
With relatively few voters headed to the polls, and elections only in certain communities – seven in Broward, 16 in Palm Beach County – most votes were tallied relatively early.
Broward had its unofficial vote totals for all but eight of its 217 precincts posted by 8 p.m., an hour after the polls closed. Results from four precincts couldn’t be transmitted to the elections office by modem, so poll workers had to deliver the results by car to the office at the Lauderhill Mall. Final results were published by 9:30 p.m.
Palm Beach County also had its unofficial vote totals for all 281 precincts posted by 9:30 p.m.
It was far different in November, when Florida voters were picking a governor, a U.S. senator, and a range of state and local offices. Palm Beach County didn’t finish recounting votes from the Nov. 6 election until after Christmas. In Broward, the county missed a key deadline for reporting recount results and the elections Canvassing Board was told 11 days after the election that 2,040 ballots had gone missing, and were likely somewhere in Elections Office voter counting building.
Matthew Isbell, a political data strategist, wrote on Twitter that Tuesday was a good sign. “Already one big improvement out of Broward. Polls for the city elections closed at 7, and right as the hour changed, we had [mail ballot] data.”
It was the first round of voting for new election supervisors in both counties, brought in to clean up elections offices whose reputations were battered during the midterms.
The elected county supervisors of elections in both counties lost their jobs. Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes resigned, and then-Gov. Rick Scott suspended her before she was ready to leave, appointing Peter Antonacci to replace her in November.
New Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher in January, and appointed Link to take over. Both have pledged to revamp the offices — and not to run for the offices themselves in 2020.
“All in all very smooth,” was how Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link summed up her first Election Day by email.
“All our precincts opened on time and we’re just having a good Election Day,” said Mary Hall, chief deputy Broward County supervisor of elections.
Broward County Judge Judge Florence Barner, chairwoman of the elections Canvassing Board, said election night was going well. “Honestly, this went really smoothly, and I’ve done this before. This went really smoothly,” she said.
Several cities elected new mayors or returned incumbents to the jobs.
Unofficial returns showed Steven B. Grant with 62.6 percent of the vote in the four-way contest for mayor of Boynton Beach.
In Coral Springs, former Mayor Scott Brook received 37.9 percent of the vote, winning a four-way race to return to his old job.
Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam received 85.9 percent of the vote against one challenger to win re-election.
In Riviera Beach, Mayor Thomas Masters had 37 percent of the vote in a five-way contest. Ronnie Felder had 34 percent. Since no candidate won a majority, a runoff takes place March 26.
In the race for the open seat of West Palm Beach mayor, Keith A. James had 50.33 percent of the vote in a three-way contest. That’s within the 0.5 percent that triggers a machine recount. If James doesn’t have a majority after a recount, a runoff would be held March 26.
Voters in Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood also approved referendums authorizing borrowing money for city projects – and raise taxes to repay the loans.
Fort Lauderdale voters also decided to scrap March elections and move contests to November – and to extend commissioners’ terms to four years from their current three years.
Staff writers Lois K. Solomon and Brittany Wallman contributed to this report.