Local Pastors, voting advocates call on Duval SOE to make voting safer, more accessible

Election Changes

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Local pastors and voting advocacy groups say they want to make sure voting is safe and accessible for as many people as possible in Duval County.

They’re calling for tools they say are already being offered in other Florida counties.

At the top of that list: applications for mail-in ballots. Vote-by-mail applications have been sent out to voters in other counties, like Pinellas and Hillsborough.

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Local pastors and voter advocacy groups want them mailed to all registered and inactive voters in Duval County.

Pastor R.L. Gundy said when it comes to safe voter access in Duval County, he’s in it for the long haul.

“We demand the changes, and we demand it right now!” exclaimed Gundy.

Gundy, who is with the African American Ministers in Action, People for the American Way, was one of nine speakers gathered outside of the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office in Downtown Jacksonville, for a news conference this morning.

They were calling for the Supervisor of Elections, Mike Hogan, to do more to increase voter access to the ballot box.

“I don’t know whether it’s because he doesn’t care? But for two years, we’ve been trying to negotiate with him!” Gundy said.

Local pastors and voting advocates also gathered from the ACLU of Florida Northeast Chapter, Harriet Tubman Women’s Auxiliary, Edward Water College, University of North Florida, Jacksonville Progressive Coalition and the League of Women Voters Jacksonville First Coast.

They say they want to make sure underserved communities aren’t overlooked on Election Day.

Michelle Hollie, with the ACLU of Florida, the Northeast Chapter, said the changes they want include, “Offering tools, such as the mailing of vote-by-mail applications, and the inclusion of safe, accessible, clearly marked ballot drop boxes.”

Gundy told Action News Jax Courtney Cole if they don’t receive a response from Hogan, they are prepared to take the city and state to federal court.

Gundy said they did so 16 years ago over early voting in Duval County.

Cole went to Hogan for answers.

Hogan told Cole he doesn’t have a call or email specifically from Pastor Gundy.

“It is rare for me to turn down an interview or to discuss anything,” Hogan said.

Election Questions

But when it comes to talking to parties involved in previous litigation, Hogan said, “You don’t meet with someone when you’re in a lawsuit, so under counsel’s advice I did not meet with those folks.”

Preparing for a presidential election during a pandemic can make the whole process even more of a challenge.

The Duval County Supervisor of Elections said the uncertainty of the coronavirus is tricky to work around, but they’re doing their best to plan ahead.

When Cole asked Hogan what he and his team are most concerned about when it comes to the general election, he said, “If there’s another spike, will we lose additional poll workers? We’ve already made a backup plan.”

The Supervisor of Elections told Cole they expect to have around 2,000 poll workers by the end of the cycle.

“What is it that we don’t know? That scares us,” Hogan told Cole.

At least 121,000 mail-in ballots will be sent out on Sept. 24.

When Cole asked if Duval County could send out applications to all registered and inactive voters in Duval County, Hogan said it’s not possible at this point.

“That would be quite a task to pick up. And we’re just now getting the ballot information,” Hogan said.

The Supervisor of Elections told Cole it would take 630,000 vote-by-mail applications and about half-a-million dollars for print and postage to reach everyone.

The Supervisor of Elections did send out a card around the end of July, to everyone that had not voted in the past, by mail.

Those info cards were sent out to 264,000 households.

“The beauty of that card was, it gave them two ways in which they could apply or make their application for a mail ballot. One was directly online,” said Hogan.

The second way is to call the Supervisor of Elections directly at 904-630-1414.

After the mail-in ballot info card was sent out, Hogan told Cole his team saw an increase in the number of people who filled out an application via the website.