NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. — Some community members in one Fernandina Beach voting precinct demand a new location before the Aug. 23 primary election.
The Lighthouse Bible Baptist Church is a location for in-person voting, but some are concerned it is unsafe for LGBTQ voters.
The church has made several posts and public remarks condemning same-sex relationships and pride celebrations.
Fernandina Beach Pride board member Connor Fasel calls the new location an unfair and unsafe situation.
“Our issue is that because of some of the rhetoric that they’ve made really public, it’s not a safe place for LQBT people and their families and their allies to vote,” Fasel said.
He’s referring to a previously live Facebook video on the church’s Facebook page, in which the pastor makes several remarks about the city hosting a Pride celebration.
“I think we all ought to show up, amen, in protest,” the pastor said.
The church will be the Precinct 13 polling place in the upcoming 2022 election.
Fasel said he believes in the right to free speech but thinks the precinct may be a threatening and unsafe atmosphere for the LGBTQ community to vote.
He said when he and others brought their concerns to Supervisor of Elections Janet Adkins, she refused to change the location.
“The supervisor of elections has told us that voter safety is not a consideration when choosing polling stations,” Fasel said.
Accompanying the Facebook video are other posts calling the city’s pride festival “shameful” and condemning the Fernandina Beach City Council for supporting the LGBTQ community.
Fasel believes the supervisor of elections’ refusal to change this polling location is voter suppression.
We reached out to Adkins for an interview about the concerns. She was unable to make time to speak with us but answered our questions via email.
Adkins said when picking locations, they look for adequate parking, kitchen amenities, electrical outlets, space requirements, and ADA compliance. She added it’s not their practice to research social media accounts.
Adkins also said polling places were finalized in April and they mailed more than 73,000 voter information cards in May; and making changes within 56 days before the election is not an option.
Even so, Fasel believes this is an issue to make a last-minute exception.
“If you are not guaranteeing every citizen the right to fair and safe voting, to fair and safe elections in-person and on the day of the election, then you are participating in intimidation and voter suppression,” Fasel said.
We reached out to the church for comment on the polling concerns.
The pastor said everyone is welcome to come vote and should feel safe doing so. He said they disagree with the city allowing a pride parade but they mean no harm to anybody.
You can find Adkins’ full statement to us below:
“Our office began the process of polling place selection in early 2021 after losing several long-term polling places in 2020.
In September 2021, my team and I met with the Nassau County Superintendent of Schools to discuss the use of schools as polling locations for the 2022 Election Cycle. It was communicated to us that the use of schools as polling locations was not the best option for Nassau County students and that it would disrupt their learning.
When we evaluate polling places, we look for adequate parking, kitchen amenities for our election workers that will work 14+ hours on Election Day, electrical outlets for voting equipment, space requirements, and ADA compliance. It is not our practice to research or google social media accounts.
We finalized our list of polling places in April 2022 and mailed over 73,000 voter information cards to Nassau County Voters in May 2022.
Elections take a great deal of planning and making changes with only 56 days before the August 23 Primary Election is not a viable option. Florida Statutes provide voting opportunities through Early Voting, Voting by Mail, and Election Day voting.
Early voting is available for Nassau County Voters from August 10 through August 20- from 9 am to 6 pm. Vote by mail ballots will be mailed on July 14.
It remains the top priority of the Nassau County Elections Office to ensure all voters have convenient access to the voting process.”
Adkins also released this news release about the situation:
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