Thousands of liveaboard cruisers are moving from one Florida address to a different Florida address in order to be able vote in future elections.
Largely overlooked during one of the most contentious elections in the country was an asterix-worthy kerfuffle on Florida’s St. Johns River, events which threatened to disenfranchise thousands of boater voters. Earlier story.
Green Cove Springs is home to St. Brendan’s Isle, a mail forwarding service that has provided a legal address for Florida drivers licenses and car registrations and—until earlier this year—a place to vote. Of St. Brendans’ 7,500 mailbox customers, nearly 3,500 used 411 Walnut Street as their address to cast ballots in state and federal elections. (Florida law prevents transient voters from casting ballots in local contests.)
In June, Clay County Elections Supervisor Chris Chambless sought and obtained an opinion from state elections authorities which cast doubt on the legality of using a non-residential address to vote. A mailbox in a commercial building was deemed insufficient to establish legal residency. Chambless said he would begin the process of purging the 411 Walnut Street voters from the rolls—liveaboards but also RVers, merchant mariners and transient professionals such as doctors and nurses.
(Interestingly, the elections supervisor in Florida’s Okaloosa County, which has a competing mail forwarding service, objected to the state’s new position and argued that RV transients could not be treated any differently than “absent military.”)
St. Brendan’s owners went into crisis mode, entering into negotiations with election officials to reach an accommodation. Hence, the great paperwork migration to another address, also in Green Cove Springs. Now cruisers and other St. Brendan’s customers who wish to vote in Clay County will no longer list 411 Walnut Street as their address. Henceforth, their legal residence will be 1063 Bulkhead Road, which happens to be the address for the Reynolds Park Yacht Center marina (photo above).
St. Brendan's Isle is telling its customers that the "move" is only partial. As reported by the cruising couple that goes by the handle of Technomadia., "Only new SBI customers will be using the address for voter registration ONLY (not for a full legal address). Existing customers do not need to switch at this time (only if Clay County makes moves to remove us from rolls), and customers will NOT be changing your legal address to this address. Customers will continue to use their existing addresses for things like driver's licenses, vehicle registration and taxes."
Besides commercial and recreational dockage, Reynolds Park maintains an RV lot behind its office, considered a residential neighborhood. Under the partnership with Reynolds, all St. Brendan’s mailbox customers will automatically be members of a new entity called “Club Isle,” providing them a connection to that 1063 Bulkhead Road address. The Club Isle concept also fits into a bigger strategy being developed to promote Green Cove as a boating destination.
Club Isle follows a Texas precedent involving the Escapees RV Club, which is legal residence for 14,000 RV transients voting in Polk County, 40 percent of the electorate. In 2002, Escapees won a lawsuit that sought to disenfranchise members that didn’t actually live in the county. St. Brendan’s owners consulted with the Escapees people, who have become unlikely voting rights advocates since their legal fight. (Think a BoatUS for land yacht owners.)
From 411 Walnut to 1063 Bulkhead—what a difference one little mile can make!