Voting advocates decry loss of polling sites for Black and low-income residents
Local activists, religious leaders and elected officials are calling out Duval Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan over his decision to reduce early voting sites for the upcoming special election to fill the seat of late Councilman Tommy Hazouri.
The coalition, which includes the ACLU and Florida state Rep. Angie Nixon, says the closures disproportionately affect Black and low-income voters in Jacksonville. They see the changes as part of a broader, nationwide effort to suppress the voting influence of Black and low-income voters.
"Meanwhile, polling places serving more affluent neighborhoods have been left open," said Michelle Holly, ACLU chapter president for the Jacksonville area.
Hogan is reducing the number of early voting sites by a quarter, keeping 15 of the 20 locations that were available during the 2020 presidential election. City Council approved the changes unanimously last month.
According to the election supervisor, the changes were necessary because of expected low voter turnout, between 10% and 15%. He also reduced the number of voting days and hours for the same reason, citing it as a cost-saving measure that "would give proper service to all of Duval County."
"We don't capture financial data," Hogan said. "When we're choosing sites we are concerned about the geographic distribution of those sites in order to serve the most voters and to the best of our ability. ... We do not site by race, gender, age or party affiliation."
Whatever the reason, a map prepared by WJCT News shows a particular loss of voting access in the poorer central city.
The median income where the early polling sites closed amounts to $44,000, dramatically less than the $64,000 in areas where the polls remain open, the ACLU says. The median income for Duval County as a whole totals $56,000.
The most glaring example, according to the advocates, is the closure of the University Park Library.
Despite Hogan using geographic location as the impetus for closures, the two other nearest early voting sites, the Regency Square Library and the Supervisor of Elections Office, are both over 6 miles away.
According to the ACLU, the median household income around the University Park Library is $35,022, and over 43% of 2020 early voters there were Black.
All in all, the five closed sites represents where over one-fifth of Black early voters in Duval cast a ballot in 2020.
Holly called the move just one in a "larger ongoing pattern" from Hogan.
The ACLU and voting access advocates have tangled with the Duval supervisor previously, having clashed with him over early-voting sites on college campuses in 2018 and voter access measures like drop boxes and mail ballots in 2020.
Most recently, groups in the coalition like the League of Women Voters named Hogan and all 67 of the state's election supervisors in a lawsuit this year to stop the implementation of Gov. Ron DeSantis' new voting law that added additional regulations. This special election would be Duval's first under those new rules.
Reginald Gundy, a pastor at Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist and a member of the coalition targeting Hogan, called for another class action lawsuit to be filed against Hogan specifically and Duval County over the effect of reducing these early voting sites on minority and low-income voters.
Hogan, in an email Monday, called the accusations "flawed."
"NONE of the organizations including Rep. Angie Nixon have ever contacted me or my office about this matter," Hogan said.
Sam Coodley, the ACLU's statewide voting rights organizer, disputed the statement. He said his organization and other voting advocates tried to reach Hogan.
"We looked at every supervisor of elections who was willing to talk to our volunteers and other statewide voting rights partners," Coodley said. "We found that Mike Hogan was uniquely unwilling to communicate with either volunteers, his constituents or statewide voting rights groups."
Coodley sent WJCT emails dating between April and May in which voting activists tried to contact Hogan regarding early voting sites.
After initially agreeing to a meeting, Hogan then canceled, citing pending litigation over DeSantis' voting law that his office was also named in.
Coodley also suggested there were more recent emails to Hogan's office from members of the coalition but did not provide them.
According to Hogan, many of the problems brought up by his detractors are specific to the unitary special election to replace Hazouri, and won't be the case for mid-term elections, when he plans to have 18 to 20 early voting sites open.
"We were required to conduct two elections in six months and in those 6 months we had to work around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years," Hogan said.
Early voting for the first election starts this Saturday, Nov. 27, and runs through Dec. 5, with election day on Dec. 7.
If none of the four candidates running to replace Hazouri reach over 50% support, a run-off between the top two finishers will be held in February.