If any Ospreys were hoping to vote early on the University of North Florida’s campus this year, Duval Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan has taken that hope away. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker’s decision last week allowed elections supervisors across Florida to place early voting sites on college and university campuses. Students have been fighting for this change for years, and now that the option is finally on the table, officials in Alachua and Hillsborough Counties have already taken steps to make early voting on UF and USF campuses a reality. Leon County’s Supervisor of Elections has remained open to the possibility, too. But Hogan will not even “entertain the option” on the grounds that it would be just too darn difficult.
He also argued that Duval County has “more early voting sites per capita” than any other county in Florida. This is unequivocally false. In April, I analyzed the number of early voting sites available in 2016 with respect to the total population and the number of registered voters in each county. By either metric, Duval is nowhere near the top of the list. I even accounted for disproportionality coming from notably small counties by removing regions with fewer than 60,000 registered voters—even on that list, Duval ranks 17th. Now, Duval still does notably well in providing its voters with early voting sites, especially for its large population. But when talking about Jacksonville, you can’t ignore the elephant in the room: distance.
And distance is precisely the problem for students. Five of the six plaintiffs in the lawsuit of Judge Walker’s ruling call the University of Florida their home, where the closest early voting site is just over one mile away. That one mile makes a significant difference for a population that is unlikely to own a car in a state where it is either over 90 degrees or pouring rain. The closest early voting location to UNF’s campus is over three miles away, predicted to be a 67 minute walk or about a 70 minute bus trip one-way.
Supervisor Mike Hogan knows he must serve the population of Jacksonville equally. He cannot responsibly ignore a population of 16,000 residents whose ability to cast a ballot depends solely on his decisions. His reasoning that the change would be too difficult is completely laughable when three other counties are working on bringing early voting to university campuses at this very moment. His excuse that Duval already has many early voting sites is not only irrelevant, but completely exaggerative. Hogan has written off a significant portion of Jacksonville as unworthy of his effort when elections officials across Florida are working harder than ever to ensure their constituents’ needs are met.
I am most saddened by the fact that, when I heard the news of Hogan’s apathy, my first reaction was completely unsurprised. Why should I be surprised that my hometown, which once made my classmates at Paxon SAS take JTA buses across the river to get to school, doesn’t care about students?
I love Jacksonville, the city that raised me, even when it doesn’t love me back. And wswI know this city can do better. To any Ospreys reading, give Supervisor Mike Hogan a call. Post on Duval County Supervisor of Elections’ Facebook with your stories of past difficulties voting. Write emails to his office with your friends. Let him know of your need for early voting on campus, and be sure to tell him that you know who is up for re-election next spring, too.
Newsome is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to allow early voting on college campuses.