Redistricting court battle creates uncertainty for candidates

City of Jacksonville asks court to waive residency requirement for March election; NAACP, other civil rights groups say ‘they do not oppose waiving the residency requirement’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In March, voters will go to the polls to elect new city leaders — among them Jacksonville City Council members.

There is still much confusion currently over who can run in what district and who voters can cast a ballot for. It all stems from redistricting, which continues to be battled out in court.

The upcoming city election will be drawing a lot of attention — not only for the various races, but it could change the political makeup of Jacksonville. That’s because minority voters are now spread across more districts, making the districts more competitive. They had been packed into four districts, but the court rejected that map, replacing it with another.

And while the maps are still being mulled over by federal judges and lawyers, there’s the looming election, and in one case, the new maps leave a district with no current candidates.

With the redistricting situation, there has been a lot of focus on the Northside districts, but there are problems in other areas of town — like District 14, which includes Naval Air Station Jacksonville and stretches to the Argyle Forest area. Right now, there are people running in that district, but under the new map, which was proposed by civil rights groups, nobody is, and that’s creating concern.

News4JAX on Thursday contacted most of the District 14 candidates to see what they plan to do. The majority say they’re going to file for a different district — like District 7 or 9. So that leaves the whole area from Argyle Forest to NAS Jacksonville without anybody in that district running. But News4JAX has been told to stand by for announcements concerning that.

🔒 INSIDER INTERACTIVE MAP: See how Jacksonville’s council districts would change under new map

Starting Jan. 9, candidates will start qualifying to run. Before this latest redistricting process started, local candidates had to live in an area for about six months in order to run for office in that district. But because of recent court action and back-and-forth changes in the maps, the city is asking to adjust that requirement so they would only have to live there by the time they file paperwork.

It’s up to a federal judge to rule on that — and up to an appeals court to decide whether a different map would be used entirely.

All sides say they hope the court acts soon.

Latest filings in redistricting legal fight

Last week, a judge ruled against the Jacksonville City Council’s redistricting plan and said the city should use the map proposed by civil rights groups, including the Jacksonville Branch of the NAACP.

Now, the city is asking the appeals court to allow it to use the map the council approved for the city election in the spring. The motion for stay was filed Tuesday.

COURT DOCUMENT: City of Jacksonville and Supervisor Mike Hogan’s time-sensitive motion for stay

This is all causing some turmoil for the election because the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office has to sort out the districts so voters will know who they can vote for and where and because deadlines are approaching for candidates.

News4JAX also learned that the city on Wednesday filed the motion with the federal court in Jacksonville, asking that the residency requirement in the city charter be waived for the upcoming city election.

Under the charter, a candidate must have resided in the district for at least 183 days (about six months) in order to qualify as a candidate for a city council seat.

Instead, they just want residency to be valid as of the date of qualification.

MORE COURT DOCUMENTS: City motion for waiver of residency requirement | Unopposed response to motion

The city offers two reasons why it should be waived: One, that with the redrawn districts, some candidates may no longer live in the district they hoped to represent, and others may be in a district that is now numbered differently. Two, they argue that technically, none of these districts will have existed for 183 days, so nobody could have lived in the district for the required time.

They want this waiver only for the 2023 city elections.

The city also says this waiver would be needed regardless of how the appeal over the map turns out because neither map will have been around for very long.

The motion also says that city attorneys have talked with attorneys for the plaintiffs and that they do not oppose this motion.

The NAACP and other plaintiffs filed its response to the request, saying “they do not oppose waiving the residency requirement only to the extent it applies to candidates running for the fourteen districted Council seats. Waiving the requirement that candidates for the five at-large seats live in their respective at-large residency areas would not be necessary since the at-large residency area map is not at issue in this case. Plaintiffs respectfully suggest, therefore, that any order granting Defendants’ motion only apply to candidates for the fourteen districted seats.”

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.