JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Local civil rights leaders are blasting the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office for scaling back access to early voting.
It comes as early voting is set to begin Saturday in the special election to fill the citywide city council seat held by the late Tommy Hazouri.
Local pastors, the American Civil Liberties Union, Florida Rising and other local activists criticized Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan for closing early voting sites that had been open in the general election in November and for cutting back the early voting days from 14 to 10.
The sites from the last election that won’t be open this time around are the Prime Osborn Convention Center, Gateway Town Center, Florida State College at Jacksonville Deerwood Center, San Marco Branch Library and University Park Branch Library.
Local pastors, the ACLU, Florida Rising and other local activists gathered Monday outside City Hall, saying the locations that were chosen for closure and the decreased voting days are an attempt to restrict access for voters in lower-income communities.
Right now, 28% of Duval County’s registered voters are Black and 6% are Hispanic.
“Look, a democracy works best when all who are involved in it have the right to vote and can fully participate in it. This is clearly a part of a national effort by Republicans to restrict voting access, sow seeds of doubt in our democracy to take away our power from working-class family, from poor people, from Black people, from brown people,” said state Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville.
Later Monday, Hogan responded, strongly denying their claims, calling them “flawed accusations” and “false statements.”
He said early voting isn’t a requirement for city elections, but his office recommended offering early voting, while limiting the number of sites, hours and days, and the council agreed to their plan.
Hogan added that his office chose to close the San Marco Branch Library and University Park Branch Library locations because they’re near other early voting sites and they saw low turnout in the last election and that the Gateway Town Center site was not used his time because the building is set to be torn down.
As for the decreased early voting days, he said his office wanted to provide one full week and two full weekends and chose not to start early voting on Monday because it’s the week of Thanksgiving.
Here is the entire response Hogan sent to News4Jax:
“The first thing I would tell you is NONE of the organizations including Rep Nixon have ever contacted me or my office about this matter, if they had they would not have made such a flawed accusation. Without any facts they made false statements to the public and the press.
“First and foremost, this is a Special Election that had very tight time constraints in the City’s Charter. We were required to conduct two elections in 6 months and in those 6 months we had to work around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.
“While early voting is not a requirement for municipal elections, we recommended to the City Council President that we should open early voting, but limit the number of sites, hours, and days. He agreed. And the full Council was in agreement when they voted on the legislation for the Special Election.
“Special Election historically draw very low turnouts. Because there is only one race on this ballot, we have predicted a turnout of 10 to 15%
“Now as to the decisions on the Early voting sites, their number, their location, their days, and their times.
“We have typically used 18 to 20 EV sites depending on the type of Election. Given the facts surrounding this Election we recommended 15 sites as we believed that would give proper service to all of Duval County.
“We chose not to use University Park and San Marco because of their proximity to other early voting sites, specifically Regency and the Downtown office. University Park and San Marco sites are not very heavily used and again turnout is expected to be low for this election.
“Regarding the Gateway early voting site, the landowner chose not to renew the lease and the building is scheduled to be torn down.
“The hours of 10 to 6 for Early Voting are consistent with every Primary and City election we hold – Nothing new here. We only go to 12 hour early voting days for the November General Elections.
“We chose to provide one full week and two full weekends, as well as continuing to have early voting on the Sunday prior to election day, which most counties do not offer. In addition, we chose not to begin early voting this Monday because it is Thanksgiving week.”