Jacksonville asks court to waive residency requirement for City Council candidates

Published on December 30, 2022 at 1:23 pm

The city of Jacksonville has asked a federal court on Wednesday to waive a requirement that City Council candidates live in their districts for six months before qualifying.

All 19 council seats are up for election in March, including 14 districts and five at-large seats. U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard struck down two of the City Council’s previous attempts at drawing council districts, finding the council segregated voters by race and didn’t correct decades of racial gerrymandering.

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While Jacksonville’s charter — the city’s constitution — requires all candidates to live for at least 183 days in the district they’re running in, the city wants Howard to waive the law and allow candidates to run for any district.

Even though Howard’s earlier orders affected only seven of the city’s 14 districts, it appears the city’s request Wednesday would apply to all 14 districts and to the five residency zones that govern who can run for each of the at-large council seats.

“When the implementation of an interim remedial map may give rise to election confusion, uncertainty, or disruption, courts have waived or extended state and local election rules in order to facilitate a smooth electoral process,” the city said.

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The plaintiffs, which include voters and voting rights organizations like the Jacksonville branch of the NAACP, the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, the local ACLU of Florida chapter and Florida Rising, said they don’t oppose waiving the requirement for candidates to the 14 districts, but they do oppose waiving the residency requirement for candidates to the five at-large seats.

The city’s lawyers say they would still want candidates to live in the district they’re running in by the time they qualify. The qualifying period is Jan. 9 to Jan. 13.

If granted, candidates would be able to move around to pick which district would best suit them.

For example, Council Member Reggie Gaffney Jr. lives north of the Trout River as the only council member in District 8, but he could instead run for a Downtown-focused District 7, which his father, the former council member who voted for the city’s maps, has said he would prefer.

No candidates currently live in District 14, a newly competitive district that covers all of Argyle. Residents in the area have complained that Argyle is often neglected by council members who don’t live in the area. If granted, candidates could move from other areas like Ortega to run for the district.

The city also filed a motion Tuesday to stay Howard’s order that implemented a map proposed by civil rights groups. The city has asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stop Howard’s order and instead allow the city to use a different plan that Howard had already rejected.

Motions requesting stays usually ask appellate courts to restore the status quo, but that would have meant returning to a decade-old redistricting plan with disproportionate populations. It’s unusual to file a stay motion that also asks for a change to the status quo.

The plaintiffs have until next Tuesday at noon to file a response to the motion.

This story is published through a partnership between Jacksonville Today and The Tributary

author image email Andrew Pantazi edits and reports for The Tributary. He previously worked as a reporter at The Florida Times-Union, where he helped organize the newsroom's union with the NewsGuild-CWA. He is a Jacksonville native and raising his two sons in the city.

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