Analysis: Why Nelson won the 2022 Apopka mayoral election

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By Reggie Connell, Editor

It’s been seven days since Apopka’s 2022 mayoral election ended, but many will analyze its outcome for years to come. Mayor Bryan Nelson edged out Commissioner Kyle Becker in the tightest election in Apopka since former Commissioner Sam Ruth beat former Commissioner Linda Laurendeau with 51.35% of the vote in the 2014 runoff for seat No. 3 of the municipal commission.

At 7 p.m. on election night, many Apopka residents were on the Orange County Supervisor of Elections (SOE) website, refreshing their devices every few seconds in anticipation of the election results. At 7:15 p.m., the first batch of votes appeared:

Voting on Election Day:

Bryan Nelson 1,091 – Kyle Becker 974.

A few minutes later, the SOE added the tally of advance votesand Nelson’s advance had been considerably closed:

Bryan Nelson 1,845 – Kyle Becker 1,843.

The candidates were within two votes of each other, with just over 3,000 absentee ballots remaining.

A Brief History of Postal Voting

By 7:20 p.m., Nelson found himself just two votes ahead with 3,082 absentee ballots remaining. In 2020, what you didn’t want to be was a Republican up two votes with 3,082 mail-in ballots remaining.

In the 2020 presidential election, only 30% of Republican voters voted by mail, while 59% of Democratic voters used the mail-in voting process. Before the election, President Donald Trump went so far as to say this about mail-in voting:

“Universal postal voting is going to be catastrophic,” he said. “This is going to make our country the laughingstock of the world.”

But clearly, 2022 is not 2020.

Around 7:35 a.m., the SOE had sent the final results. Nelson received 1,798 votes by mail to Becker’s 1,276, giving him a slim margin of victory and four more years as mayor of Apopka.

More on voting by mail later.

In the end, Nelson was re-elected with 3,601 votes (53.87%) over Becker with 3,107 (46.13%) votes.

So what led to Nelson’s victory? Can it be broken down and understood?

Let’s dive in…

A municipal election is a bit like looking into an unknown room through the keyhole. There are things you can see. There are things you get a glimpse of and can assess. And there are things you can’t see and won’t know until you open the door.

Apopka’s 2022 mayoral election fits that description. There were known, speculated and unknown factors. But now, with all the details available, here are the elements that I believe led to Nelson’s victory.

Low voter turnout on election day

Election day began with overcast skies and moderate turnout at the Apopka compound. The rain was on the way. There were just over 100 voters per hour and expectations of record turnout were evaporating.

By early afternoon, the clouds had cleared, humidity replaced balmy temperatures, and voters ticked off a bit per hour. It looked like the turnout could match the 2018 model.

By late afternoon, people were leaving work and turnout surged, surpassing the mayor’s 2018 record of 6,451 voters and eventually reaching 6,762. He broke the record for total voters during the a mayoral election, but was behind by less than 20% of Apopka’s 35,000 registered voters.

It was not the participation model a challenger wants.

After 3,022 mail-in ballots received and 1,625 early voters, only 2,055 ballots were cast on Election Day, which generally favors an incumbent.

So what turned voters away?

negative publicity

Nelson filled Apopka’s mailboxes with campaign ads featuring Becker in a black-and-white photo and said, among other things, “his fiscal irresponsibility is costing you higher taxes, higher sewage rates , more debt and love development deals.” The back of the mailing read, “Kyle Becker lets the taxpayers hold the bag for his poor financial decisions.” Nelson followed these senders with similar advertisements in Chief Apopka.

Apopka residents also received mail at the end of the election cycle from a Tallahassee organization called“The Committee to Protect Florida” which attacked Becker with Nelson-like rhetoric.

Was it effective? It’s hard to say.

Typically, a campaign would showcase their accomplishments over the past month rather than attempt to define an opponent. It’s an unusual tactic for a starter. Still, this could explain the low percentage turnout in the election when it seemed the level of excitement was high.

Fund raising

Nelson has consistently passed Becker throughout the election cycle and has passed him in recent months. Incumbents with a significant fundraising lead are usually successful in getting re-elected.

After the February 5-18 fundraising reports were released, Nelson raised $85,560 compared to $33,880 for Becker.

The simple truth is that it’s hard to beat an incumbent with a fundraising edge.

A Brief History of Postal Voting: Part Two

First, let me dispel any rumors regarding the SOE. I read a lot of it on social media.

Yes, it is unusual for absentee ballots to be tabulated last. But keep in mind… the SOE was running several elections in Orange County. But according to the SOE office, 86 mail-in ballots were received by 5:30 p.m. by the USPS, and 10 ballots were dropped off at the office after 6 p.m. Due to late arrivals, the SOE first posted election day and early vote totals.

The bigger question might be how Nelson overcame Republicans’ 2020 aversion to mail-in ballots. The response may come from a letter he sent before mail-in ballots were sent out by the SOE.

In January, Nelson sent a letter with a request to request an absentee ballot from Apopka Republicans. It was controversial at the time because it contained a self-addressed, stamped envelope with Nelson’s address on it rather than the SOE office.

But in a close election, it might have made the difference… if only to give Republicans the green light to vote by mail in 2022.

In conclusion: a victory is a victory

Nelson took a fundamental approach to winning a close election. He used his fundraising advantages to send Apopka residents both negative and positive announcements and hung on to score a narrow victory.

Despite an increase in voter turnout of 311 in 2022, Nelson still received 502 fewer votes than in 2018. Becker received 738 more votes than former Mayor Joe Kilsheimer in 2018, but was still below 494 votes.

It’s hard to see the result as a mandate from Apopka voters, and it’s equally hard to point to specific issues as the reason for Nelson’s re-election.

However, a win is a win.

Congratulations to you, Mayor Nelson. You fought hard and went undefeated in municipal, county and state elections.

And thank you, Commissioner Becker, for six years of service to Apopka. You ran an impressive campaign and gave your all to the city council.

A time for Apopka to get together?

I know it’s traditional to call on Apopka to unite, come together as a community and move forward. That’s what we do after an election. I even attended events designed to start the healing process.

I’m just not sure that’s the healthiest direction for Apopka to go right now.

There are issues in this city that are worth moving forward and that need to continue after the election. There are issues that need champions to keep them alive. There are causes that may not be as important to the city council as they are to you.

My appeal to Apopka is as follows:

Be respectful. Be careful. Be passionate. And stay engaged.

Yes, elections have consequences. But don’t let the outcome of an election change what’s important to you.

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