Tuesday’s special election to fill a Jacksonville City Council vacancy highlighted just how evenly split Duval County is, even in low-turnout races.
Democrat Tracye Polson and Republican Nick Howland advanced from the four-way election and will face each other in a February runoff for the at-large council seat.
Municipal races are already dominated usually by Democrats and Republicans voting with most independent and third-party voters sitting out. The special election, scheduled between Thanksgiving and Christmas, exacerbated that.
About 13 percent of registered voters participated in the election, but less than 5 percent of independent and third-party voters did.
Voter turnout was evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats had just a 65-voter advantage in an election of more than 81,000 votes. But how Democrats and Republicans voted differed drastically.
Democrats primarily voted before Election Day, voting by mail or in-person, while Republicans dominated by equal numbers on Election Day.
Polson and Howland received 37 and 36 percent of the vote, respectively, while Democrat James “Coach” Jacobs and Republican Howdy Russell each received just under 14 percent of the vote.
Polson performed particularly well for a Democrat at the Beaches, in San Marco, in Riverside and on the Westside.
Howland did better than most Republicans do in Arlington.
Jacobs, the only Black candidate on the ballot, won a handful of Black-majority precincts.
Usually, Republicans can rely on a few neighborhoods to give them massive voting advantages, and Democrats can expect the same. In this election instead, the combined Democratic votes (Jacobs and Polson’s vote totals) and the combined Republican votes (Howland’s and Russell’s) were spread more evenly across the county.
When Joe Biden became the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter to win Duval County, he did so by increasing his vote share with white voters, even as he saw a dip among Black voters. Polson continued that trend.
If this continues for other Duval Democrats, it could open up the possibility of winning more of the City Council’s 14 neighborhood-based districts. Currently, Democrats hold just five of those districts and none of the additional five at-large seats.
Polson dominated in City Council District 14, which has historically voted to the right of the countywide average. She won the district by 17 percentage points while winning the county by less than one point.
Probably a big factor in Polson’s success in Riverside and on the Westside was her previous close run for House District 15. That district is a Republican-held seat that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 and voted for Ron DeSantis in 2018. Yet Polson did equally well there compared to the rest of the county.
Polson and Howland effectively tied for the top spot in the race, and Jacobs and Russell effectively tied for third and fourth place. Yet while Jacobs’ earned almost all of his vote from certain neighborhoods, Russell’s vote share was spread across the county.
Both Polson and Howland will likely spend the coming months trying to both win over Jacobs’ and Russell’s voters, as well as increase turnout from the vast majority of registered voters who didn’t come out this time.