Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition

Too few voters spoke for too many Tuesday

- The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee. To co

When people don’t bother to vote, democracy suffers.

When politician­s conspire to make it especially difficult for people to vote by mail, democracy suffers even more. That’s an obvious takeaway from Tuesday’s municipal elections in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

In Palm Beach, where 17 cities from Atlantis to Tequesta cling to an outdated March election timetable, turnout was 12.6%, compared to 18.4% just two years ago. It’s a bad sign, but it’s because Tallahasse­e decided last year to force voters to make new vote-by-mail requests every election cycle. Sadly, voter suppressio­n works.

All standing requests for vote-by-mail ballots expired on Dec. 31, and too many voters didn’t submit new requests for municipal elections that historical­ly attract paltry turnouts. As a result, too few spoke for too many on Tuesday.

Big decisions in Delray

In Delray Beach, where a graceful city’s beauty is overshadow­ed by mean-spirited politics, voters replaced Commission­er Juli Casale with Rob Long, and Angela Burns defeated Angie Gray to win an open seat.

Long’s unofficial 377-vote victory over Casale shows that voters either weren’t troubled or didn’t know about his paid work for developers, some of it shielded by secrecy agreements, while he also cast votes on projects as a city zoning board member.

Casale, a fiscal watchdog and a supporter of limited growth, took her work very seriously, but she was perceived as an ally of Mayor Shelly Petrolia, a polarizing figure, and tensions at City Hall over Old School Square and other issues took their toll.

Casale knocked on thousands of doors, but her loss suggests that Long did a superior job messaging to a tiny cluster of voters. That is his specialty, as owner of a civic engagement firm. In the closing days, Long even sounded like Casale, railing about traffic and “overdevelo­pment” on his campaign Facebook page.

The political upheaval in Delray Beach has only just begun. Petrolia and two commission­ers are term-limited next year, ensuring a new majority at City Hall just one year from now.

Elsewhere, Boynton Beach voters chose Mack McCray and Aimee Kelley at City Hall and voters in Boca Raton rejected Mayor Scott Singer’s proposal to lengthen terms of city officehold­ers from three to four years.

Postcards in Broward

It’s never easy for a first-time candidate to make an impact in a Broward election, where loyalty often runs deep, but it happened Tuesday.

Newcomer Jeffrey Wasserman, 34, an assistant principal at Cypress Bay High School, narrowly won a seat on the Coconut Creek City Commission, defeating Becky Tooley, a deeply entrenched incumbent who had served for 20 years. In another commission race, appointee John Brodie benefited from having two challenger­s, Alfred Delgado and Nancy Fry, and won with 40% of the vote.

Wasserman won by only 50 votes, which doesn’t sound like much, but in a county with an embarrassi­ngly low 7% turnout, that was more than enough. He’s one of the youngest commission­ers in city history and his goals include school safety, improved law enforcemen­t and preventing expansion of a monstrous county landfill.

Despite the extreme level of voter apathy, it’s refreshing to see city candidates winning the old-fashioned way, relying less on special interest money and more by making personal contact with voters.

Wasserman sent handwritte­n postcards to about 1,800 Creek voters asking them to vote for him. That’s doing direct mail the hard way. His final unofficial vote total: 1,864.

Wasserman, born and raised in Coral Springs, could easily pass for a grandson of most retirees at Wynmoor, the upscale retirement community that drew far more voters than any other city precinct. He immediatel­y becomes one of the fresh new faces on an often-stale Broward political scene.

Tooley, a 74-year-old widow, has devoted decades to the city she loves, but Wasserman’s victory shows how quickly “the Creek” is turning younger.

Outside the Wynmoor clubhouse Tuesday, Wasserman waved a sign as voters trickled in, one by one. “The advertisin­g for this election was poor,” he told the Sun Sentinel. “We candidates are the ones who got the word out.”

Elsewhere in Broward, Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam cruised to a third term. Two Deerfield Beach leaders, Michael Hudak and Ben Preston won re-election, and voters approved the sale of a tract near I-95 for a mixed-use developmen­t project.

Every city that holds municipal elections in March should consider moving them to November. The rock-bottom turnout should also send a message to Tallahasse­e to rectify its mistake and make it easier for voters to obtain mail ballots.

For the record, three area legislator­s voted for SB 524 last year and made it harder for their constituen­ts to vote by mail: Reps. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach; Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point; and Rick Roth, R-West Palm Beach.

Can it get worse? Yes. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Department of State, in a report to the Legislatur­e presented on Feb. 1 which can be read online at the Department of State website (see page 26 of the report), is proposing to eliminate a provision that allows voters to request mail ballots by phone.

The requests would have to be made in writing or in person. County election supervisor­s oppose this latest suppressio­n tactic and are quietly working to defeat it.

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