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An election with very few voters, and the heat season — but not the basketball team

A sign reads "vote here" at the Palm Beach County Library's main branch in West Palm Beach.
Wilkine Brutus
/
WLRN
Turnout was light at the polling station at the Palm Beach County Library in West Palm Beach Tuesday.

Election Day was a mostly quiet affair, certainly compared to just one year ago. And what a 'heat season' means in hot and steamy South Florida

Election Day was this week, with a number of local races and ballot questions. A lot of voters missed it. Turnout was very low — just a handful of registered voters casting ballots in some precincts.

About one in every six people who could have voted in local elections actually cast ballots. Voter turnout was below 20%, and much lower in some precincts where only a a few of registered voters chose to participate in democracy — like one precinct where the number of voters could be counted on one hand.

"There have been several attempts over the years to move these off-cycle elections to presidential years, or least midterms," said Miami Herald Deputy Editorial Page Editor Amy Driscoll. "I think that's what needs to happen. I think it is not really serving the voters to expect them to pay attention and to allow these seats to be chosen by such a small number of people."

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One election remains undecided. The Democratic primary in the 20th congressional district is undergoing a hand recount. On Friday, only three votes separated two candidates — Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick and Dale Holness.

Democrat Alcee Hastings held the seat for years. He died this spring. Eleven candidates were vying for the Democratic nod in the district, which straddles Broward and Palm Beach counties. More than 345,000 people are registered to vote in the district. Only 16.5% of them cast ballots.

The district is heavily Democratic. About eight of every 10 voters are registered Democrats. Florida is a closed-primary state so a vote must be registered with a political party in order to vote in that party's primary. As the recount continues, the eventual Democratic primary winner will go on to the general election having gathered only about 4% of registered Democratic voters in the district.

"I think we all feel overwhelmed by politics," Driscoll said. "The last few years, the turnout in Miami-Dade County was just under 17 percent. And he presidential race was 75 percent. That's how different it is with an off an off-cycle election."

Heat Season

The Heat season is underway — that's the basketball season featuring the play of Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and Bam Adebayo. Next summer will bring the first heat season — as in an official declaration of hot weather.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced this week that the county is declaring its first ever heat season, running from May 1 through Oct. 31.

"This is to raise awareness about the risks associated with extreme heat," said Jane Gilbert, Miami-Dade County's chief heat officer. She likens it to raising preparedness about hurricane season.

"Extreme heat is the silent killer among weather-related events. It causes more deaths annually than hurricanes, flooding, forest fires or any other weather or climate-related event. So this is to make sure that we're all prepared," she said.

The declaration of a heat season is different than a heat advisory, which is an official designation issued by the National Weather Service based on regional weather conditions. In South Florida, it requires a heat index — temperature plus humidity — of 108 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours for the weather service to issue a heat advisory.

However, Gilbert said she is talking with the service about changing those guidelines.

"Other cities have reduced their heat advisory and warning level recently. So we're looking to model after some of the work that they did," she said.

From a practical level, the heat season effort aims to increase information about the dangers of heat, especially to vulnerable populations — such as the elderly and people who work outside during the summer.

"It's about adapting schedules, making sure potable water is available. We have a lot of outdoor events here. We need to make sure that people have access to water in those times," Gilbert said.

The pandemic has shut down public drinking fountains as a public health precaution. Gilbert said they need to be adapted so they can fill reusable water bottles.

More communities may declare their own heat seasons. On Monday, Miami-Dade County is due to host regional municipalities belonging to the Southeast Florida Climate Change Compact — a four county partnership that aims to reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to the impacts of climate change across the region.

"We'll be sharing tools and resources for all the cities and counties to develop their own heat plan," Gilbert said.

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.