With historically low turnout, status quo ruled Election Day in Orlando as Mayor Buddy Dyer was re-elected along with his loyal City Commissioners Patty Sheehan and Sam Ings. After millions of dollars were spent in the contested races, only 22,352 Orlando voters cast ballots in this year’s municipal election out of 152,505 total registered city voters.
Total voter turnout in the snap election ended at a pathetic 14.66%. Shockingly, several Orlando precincts only totaled between 2% and 5% voter turnout at the polls on Election Day. Severe voter apathy hit portions of every city district.
In the Millenia area, Precinct 4301 ended Election Day with 2.22% turnout at the polls. Counting absentee ballots and early voting, Precinct 4301 only had a 4.0% total turnout this year even with the contested District 4 City Commissioner and mayor’s race on the ballot. Downtown precincts of District 4 had much higher turnout, between 23% and 29%.
District 6 also had a heavily contested City Commissioner race along with the mayor’s race, but several precincts did not go to the polls to vote. In Precinct 6401, which includes the Kirkman Road and Vineland Road area and parts of International Drive, only 4.26% of voters went to the polls on Election Day, with a 6.68% total turnout including absentee ballots. In the MetroWest area, Precinct 6501 saw 4.64% of voters show up at the polls and a total turnout of only 8.14%.
In the MetroWest and Kirkman Road area in District 5, Orlando’s Precinct 5301 had a 2.5% turnout at the polls on Election Day. The precinct ended with only 4.68% total turnout including absentee and early voting. Across town, Precinct 2101 in the Semoran and Curry Ford area only saw 2.93% turnout on Election Day and a total turnout of 6.96% this year. In southeast Orlando, Precinct 1401 had 4.13% at the polls and a total voter turnout of 7.74% in the municipal election.
Earlier this year, Dyer and the City Council moved the election date up five months from the originally scheduled April 2016 election, causing the snap election. Prior to the 2012 election, Dyer moved the municipal elections to the first Tuesday in April which led to historic low turnout at the time – around 15.9% turnout.
When Dyer was first elected in 2003, Orlando voters more than doubled that turnout with around 32.5% total voter turnout for the special election. In 2008, the Orlando municipal election was held on the same date as the Presidential Preference Primary and turnout surged to 42% in the city. Dyer changed the municipal election date for 2012 fearing Democratic turnout would be lower than Republican turnout since President Obama did not face a primary.
It is likely Dyer feared similar results ahead of his previously scheduled 2016 re-election before moving the election to November 3rd 2015. This year’s “non-partisan” municipal election became very partisan with Dyer and the Florida Democratic Party doubling down on Orlando re-electing a Democrat and challenger Paul Paulson heavily campaigning using the Republican label.
Clearly, voter participation is being impacted by the changing election dates and stand-alone municipal elections. While the incumbents have been re-elected, the real focus should be on increasing public participation and bringing more people from the community into the municipal process in Orlando.