Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters won re-election Friday when no candidates qualified to oppose him after he won a special election last November. He joins five others who were unopposed in the city’s municipal elections.
In addition to the sheriff’s race, only one person qualified in the races for supervisor of elections, tax collector and three City Council races. In each of the unopposed races, the winner was a Republican.
Democrats qualified to run in only 12 of the 24 races that were up this year, while Republicans qualified in 23 races. Libertarian candidates also qualified in three of the City Council races, including two that will be voted on countywide.
The last time the city had this many unopposed elections was 2011, when 18 out of the 24 offices had multiple candidates, the same amount as this year.
That means all Duval County voters can vote in races for mayor, property appraiser and 16 of the 19 City Council seats.
In 2019, just five candidates won election unopposed — four City Council races plus Elections Supervisor Mike Hogan.
Jerry Holland will be the new elections supervisor in July, a return to the office for the Republican property appraiser. Republican Jim Overton won re-election as tax collector. Republican city councilmembers Kevin Carrico, Nick Howland and Matt Carlucci each also won re-election unopposed.
Democrat Lakesha Burton — who had lost in the sheriff’s special election — had filed to run against Waters, but earlier this week, she withdrew, saying she didn’t think she could win. Democrats weren’t able to find another candidate in time to file and qualify.
Duval County Republican Chairman Dean Black said his party was intentional in recruiting candidates to run even in districts that heavily favor Democrats.
“Even if it’s an overwhelmingly blue district, we want someone on the ballot because they’re going to be carrying the Republican message door to door,” he said. “They may not win now, but we’re in this for the long haul.”
He cited the county party’s candidate recruitment and training program, its success in fundraising and its voter registration efforts as reasons the party was able to field candidates in so many races. He also said those successes likely intimidated Democrats who otherwise might have filed to run.
Daniel Henry, the Duval County Democratic chairman, said Democrats chose not to contest every race because the party wanted to “compete in races where we strategically thought we had an opportunity to maintain a seat and potentially flip a seat,” even though that meant Democrats only filed in two of the five countywide City Council at-large seats, and Democrats are competing for just two of the five countywide constitutional officers.
“At large races are notoriously difficult to run in and they’ve become much more expensive,” he said. “It’s always difficult to convince someone to run in a race when they’re challenging an incumbent.”
In state and national races, Duval County has swung back and forth between parties. Donald Trump won the county in 2016, then Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum won in 2018, and Joe Biden won in 2020. Gov. Ron DeSantis won the county two months ago.
Black said in 2018, the local Democratic Party was strong, and a narrative took hold that the county — the sixth most populous in Florida — would be dominated by Democrats, particularly as the county became minority-majority for the first time in 2020.
Instead, Black said Republicans have redoubled their efforts to register voters and fundraise for candidates.
Even though Democrats have only qualified for half of the races that are up this year, Henry said, “2023 presents an opportunity [for Democrats] to not only be competitive but to really give voters a choice in what direction we want to take this city in.”