The June 29 letter from Harold Ewing might have been the turning point for Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher.
“We are going to put together a team of protesters and reporters on this if you can’t secure a better location that is not such a controversial place for such disturbing times over Islam and Isis. I am asking you as a Republican and a Christian to find a non-discriminate location,” Ewing wrote.
“Looks like this is becoming a bigger problem than I thought,” Bucher, who was on vacation, wrote her chief deputy, Charmaine Kelly. “Can we see if there is anywhere else we can move to?”
Kelly replied, “Yes, we will look for a replacement immediately. Lots of angry and extremely vocal voters.”
The action has sparked a local and even nationwide debate over security vs. discrimination.
Bucher, who is up for re-election to the nonpartisan elections supervisor post in the Aug. 30 election, has said that as many as 50 callers advised her to move the site, with some warning they’d try to block voting or even would call in a bomb threat to clear the building.
Bucher told the editorial board of the Palm Beach Post Wednesday that this was not the first time. She said she moved a precinct from a church several years ago “when the priest refused to stop putting anti-abortion messages on his marquee on Election Day.”
Bassem Alhalabi, the mosque’s president, has told The Post he was blindsided by Bucher’s action and has said she was too quick to, in his words, cave-in to “bigots.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations has raised the possibility of legal action if Bucher didn’t change her mind, which she hasn’t.
Emails provided Monday to The Palm Beach Post in response to a public records request show dozens of phone messages and emails. A count shows 16 in favor of moving the site, most of those before Bucher did so, and 26 against, most of those after she did. But they span a spectrum of opinions.
The calls and letters began after voters started receiving new registration cards showing the move from J.C. Mitchell Elementary School to the mosque.
On July 6, with Bucher still on vacation, her office emailed her that staff had visited the Spanish River Library and the place would work as a replacement. Bucher responded in agreement. Documents were signed with the city.
On July 7, Bucher wrote Alhalabi to say that “our office received calls from voters expressing their dissatisfaction with the location” and she was moving it.
When the story broke in the press that weekend, calls and emails came in hot and heavy, especially on Monday, July 11.
Carol Esser and Joseph Herko of Boca Raton wrote, “Shame, shame, shame on you.” They said the cost of sending yet another round of voter cards “is a minor issue compared to the message that this change sends to the community and to our Islamic neighbors.”
Bucher so far has not said how much it will cost for the original mailing of new cards showing the mosque and a subsequent mailing of cards reflecting the change to the library.
Plenty applauded Bucher.
Keith Braude wrote, “I implore you to find a neutral location. 2500 souls are affected. They’d all be willing to drive a bit farther.” And Daniel Lishansky of Atlantis said he supports the move “not because of the controversy that it is a mosque, but because I believe that houses of worship should never be used as a polling place.” About a fourth of all precincts are in religious centers, nearly all of those Christian.
One phone message was from Tamara Ayon, Florida director of Emerge USA, which works with local Muslims, South Asians and Arab-Americans. Ayon said Monday that Bucher has not responded.
“If you compromise by remaining silent on this issue today, what will you have to compromise tomorrow?” the group said Wednesday in an open letter to the community on its web page.
It wasn’t alone. On Friday, The Anti-Defamation League, the Palm Beach Board of Rabbis, and three synagogues issued a joint statement saying that “we should be able to vote together in any community building.”
U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel, whose districts include parts of Boca Raton, also have issued statements to The Post suggesting the move was discriminatory.