In late June, some 2,500 Boca Raton residents received a notice in the mail announcing that their voting location for the August primary and November general elections had moved to the Islamic Center of Boca Raton. It shouldn’t have been noteworthy; churches and synagogues have been used as polling places for years, negating any “separation of church and state” argument.
But this is the 2016 election, in which a presidential candidate from a major political party can suggest that all Muslims be banned from entering the country. Soon after the notices went out, Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher started getting calls and emails from voters saying they were “outraged” by her decision.
On July 8, Bucher announced the polling site would be moved to a nearby library, telling the Palm Beach Post, the Sun-Sentinel, and other news outlets that there had been a bomb threat aimed at the mosque, which had forced her to seek out alternate locations.
The only problem? She later admitted to police that she’d decided to move the polling site long before receiving the bomb threat.
From a Boca Raton Police Department’s report, dated July 18: "Ms. Bucher told me [Investigator Kimsal] that prior to the alleged call regarding the possibility of a bomb threat, she had already made a decision to move the polling location because of the amount of concern brought to her attention after choosing the Islamic Center."
Bucher was up for re-election at the time. Interestingly, she didn’t bother reporting the call to the police. An investigation was opened only after Omar Saleh, an attorney representing the mosque, took matters into his own hands. As the police report notes, “Ms. Bucher stated she took the call but did not record the phone number, call time, or person’s name. She did not think the call was going to ‘escalate’ and thought it was a reaction to the caller’s displeasure over the choice of the facility.”
In other words, she didn’t think the threat was significant enough to warrant notifying the police, but it did justify moving the polling site.
Bucher was easily re-elected in the August 31 primary and has not responded to requests for comment about her decision to remove the mosque as a polling site.
Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, communications director for the Florida chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations, says people in the local Islamic community are still hoping to get the mosque reinstated as a polling site, even though it’s probably too late for this year’s election. For many of them, the importance is largely symbolic.
“These interactions just add up to the bigger message that the bigots are in control,” he says. “Bigots can say, ‘We can call any Supervisor of Elections where there are mosques as polling stations, and make the same 50 calls, and they’ll withdraw it.’ That’s the sad thing, that she gave in to the pressure.”
You can view the full police report here:
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.