It’s not every day you see Democratic lawmakers condemning one of their own, but that’s what happened this week after the elections supervisor in Florida’s largest county decided to relocate a polling site from an Islamic center over residents’ complaints.
Though at least 90 churches and five synagogues were selected to serve as polling locations in Palm Beach County this year, the Islamic Center of Boca Raton was removed as a site last week. The local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations quickly criticized the relocation of the polling site to a local library as Islamophobic, as did two Boca Raton-area U.S. representatives, Democrats Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch.
The decision from the county elections supervisor, Susan Bucher, appeared even more unusual given her progressive credentials. Bucher earned a reputation as “the relentless fly in the GOP soup” during her eight years in the Florida House of Representatives, where she spearheaded fights to expand healthcare access and subjected her Republican colleagues’s legislative proposals to sharp-tongued questioning.
Bucher expressed concern about threats to interrupt voting on Election Day in a statement to the Palm Beach Post explaining her decision to relocate the polling site (She had approached the mosque about serving as a polling site before disinviting it).
“Some felt uncomfortable voting at the Islamic Center,” Bucher said, noting that her office had received at least 50 anonymous calls. “When we received a call that indicated individuals planned to impede voting and maybe even call in a bomb threat to have the location evacuated on Election Day (no name was given during the call), we located the Spanish River Library which is two miles away from the center as an alternative voting location and I called the Center’s President.”
Yet Bucher was hardly known to shrink to an opponent’s demands during her time at the state Capitol, and while the elections supervisor position is nonpartisan, she’s remained an outspoken supporter of traditionally liberal issues like raising the minimum wage and securing voter rights. Bucher has pushed for online voter registration and was credited with helping defeat Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) 2014 attempt to purge non-citizens from voter rolls using a new database she argued was unreliable and aimed at disenfranchising Democrats.
Now, her move to relocate the Islamic Center polling site has earned praise from groups like the conservative Florida Family Association, which pointed to articles on conspiracy sites like creepingsharia.org to cast suspicion on the president of the Islamic Center of Boca Raton.
Bucher did not respond Thursday to a request for comment from TPM.
She first entered the state legislature after succeeding Democratic state Rep. Ed Healey, whom she worked for as a legislative aide, in 2000. She represented Florida’s 88th District before winning re-election as a representative of the 86th, where she found her voice as a bullhorn for the Sunshine State’s Democratic minority and frequently found herself at odds with the privatization-happy governorship of Jeb Bush (R).
Bucher blasted the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law as the “shoot your neighbor” bill and condemned a successful Republican push to require women to have ultrasounds before abortions. She also promoted tolerance, whether by attending the centennial celebration for the American Jewish Committee or expressing concerns over racial profiling in relation to a bill that would make driving without a seat belt a primary offense.
A bridge-burning approach to legislating combined with the Democrats’ proportionally tiny share of the Florida House during her tenure meant that Bucher left office in 2008 without a significant piece of legislation to her name. Yet her departure, forced by term limits, was met with grudging respect from opponents in Tallahassee. Marco Rubio, the state House speaker, called Bucher a “special person with a special amount of dedication to public service” for her efforts to push bills that she knew were “going to lose virtually every vote.”
Bucher was elected in 2008 to her current post as Palm Beach County’s Supervisor of Elections, where she is currently wrapping up her second four-year term and is running for re-election this fall.