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With less than 5,000 votes and a 12% turnout, it's time to bury the March elections in Apopka


March elections in Apopka died on Wednesday - at least, I hope they did.

In an election that decides who will make decisions for a city of 60,000 residents and a budget eclipsing $165 million, it's disheartening that only 12% of registered voters participated. Clearly, attaching a municipal election to the flakiness of a Presidential Preference Primary (PPP) is not the formula Apopka needs to ensure a robust democratic process.

Let's talk about that for a moment.

Yes, the PPP drives turnout, but only if all of the elements of a full primary are in effect and only once every four years (every other election cycle).

In 2016, the Democrat and Republican fields were full for the Florida PPP. Consequently, turnout was high in Apopka, with 9,613 voters participating in the Seat #3 and #4 elections. 

In 2018, with a mayoral election, two commission seats on the ballot, and no PPP, the turnout was only 6,473.

In 2020, with an incumbent Republican and a decided Democratic ticket, the PPP was essentially of no consequence, and turnout fell to 7,501 for two commission seat elections.

In 2022, with a hotly contested mayoral race, two city commission seats in play, and no PPP, turnout only reached 6,763. That was the highest for a mayoral election in Apopka's history, but still, only 21% of Apopka's registered voters.

But then, in 2024, the perfect storm of apathy and a fractured PPP hit Apopka like a Category-5 hurricane.

First, there was a Republican primary, but only one viable candidate. Second, there was no Democratic primary. Finally, two first-time candidates running for one of the two Apopka City Commission seats didn't help move the dial.

By the end of the day, the voter turnout was 4,534—just 12% of registered voters in Apopka. It was the lowest since 2012.

Think about that... 

In 2012, John Land was mayor, and the population of Apopka was approximately 45,000. 

It's time to stop conjuring up silly theories about the March elections and embrace the idea of moving them to November. First and foremost, voter turnout will increase.

It's simple: People are used to voting in November because the presidential and midterm elections fall in that month. Local officials can take advantage of this high turnout by holding municipal elections in November and engaging more citizens in the democratic process.

Holding municipal elections in November would also increase civic engagement. When local elections are held separately from national elections, they often get overshadowed by the national political discourse. However, by holding municipal elections in November, local officials can harness the energy and enthusiasm of the national elections and encourage more people to participate in local politics. This would lead to a more informed and engaged citizenry, which is essential for a potentially emerging city like Apopka.

Still not convinced?

You might argue that my reasons are theoretical, hypothetical, and without data. It's a fair rebuttal, except I have one pretty good data-driven example. 

In 2020, Commissioner Alice Nolan resigned from Seat #2 on the Apopka City Council, and a special election was held on the November ballot.

Here are the results of the special election for Seat #2:

  • Diane Velazquez 10,318
  • Yesenia Baron 6,157
  • Gene Knight 4,028
  • Nick Nesta 3,799

That's 24,302 votes for a special election with two first-time candidates among the four. That's more votes in one city commission election than combined in the last three March elections. That's approximately 68% voter turnout, which mirrors the 66.7% turnout nationally in the 2020 presidential election.

The Apopka City Charter Review meetings continue in April. The top agenda item is the debate over a strong mayor vs. a city manager form of government. It's an interesting discussion, and I see merit on both sides.

But surely the City Council and Apopka voters can agree that November is by far a better time to hold municipal elections than March—especially after last week's performance. 

Editor's Note: A correction was made in a later edition of this article for the total votes in the 2022 election. 

Apopka, Apopka City Council, Opinion, March, November, Apopka Elections 2024, Apopka City Charter


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