Elections supervisor blames negative ads for low voter turnout

Elections Supervisor Mike Hogan now sees only 23% turnout in city election

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - One week before Election Day for Jacksonville mayor and more than a dozen other offices, there is a huge concern about dismal early voting numbers.

As of Tuesday afternoon, only 8 percent of Duval County's registered voters had either visited an early voting site or returned a ballot by mail, which Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan said is way below what it should be after the first week of early voting.

Hogan attributed the totals to negative political ads hitting the airwaves.

"The only thing maybe we can attribute it to is, it’s been a real negative campaign all the way across the board," Hogan told News4Jax. "It seems every candidate is attacking each other. And I know the public does not like a negative campaign."

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It's not only the mayoral race, either. Several city council races have also taken on negative tones. It was believed that voter turnout would improve after last week's debate, but that has not been the case.

Sharon Jelks, a resident who spoke with News4Jax on Tuesday, said people shouldn't let the negativity spawned by campaign ads get in the way of them doing their civic duty and casting a ballot.

"People got to go out and vote no matter what the turnout is, in the end because you don’t know how the vote will turn out if you don’t put your ballot in and count and make it stand for something," she said.

Rick Mullaney, of Jacksonville University’s Public Policy Institute, believes the real problem may not be the negativity, but a lack of interest. He said in most of the previous city elections over the last 30 years, the margin of victory has been very close -- sometimes winning by only 1 percent.

"This year there’s a perception that it’s a less competitive and when you have a raced it is perceived as less competitive, it affects turn out," said Mullaney, who is a News4Jax political analyst.

Hogan originally predicted total turnout to be 28 to 30 percent, but the numbers he's seeing so far have caused him to revise that to 23 percent. For perspective, 33 percent of registered voters turned out for the last city election four years ago in which Lenny Curry was elected mayor.

Wednesday is last day to request a mail-in ballot. Early voting continues through Sunday. All precincts in Duval County will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on March 19.

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