Closed primaries scrutinized in Pasco, Hillsborough listen07/08/08 SeÃ¡n Kinane
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Unlike many other states, Florida has a system of closed primaries, only registered members of a political party are allowed to vote in that partyâ€™s primary election. The exception is when there are no other candidates running for a seat, in which case all voters can vote in a primary race that will determine who wins the election.
But some people are accusing last-minute write-in candidates of disenfranchising thousands of voters by closing what would have been an open primary. This scenario is playing out in a County Commission race in Pasco County, where Brian Corley is the supervisor of elections.
â€œThere had been two Republicans in the contest, the incumbent and the challenger. Under Florida law, that would have designated a universal primary contest in which all voters, regardless whether youâ€™re Republican, Democrat, or other minor parties, or no parties, would have voted on the August 26th ballot for that election. What you had was you had a gentleman named John Taylor file as a write-in candidate, and the law states that at the time of qualifying, you have to reside within the district of the office youâ€™re seeking. So this write-in candidate filled out the required paperwork and in essence by doing that that closed the August 26th election to only Republicans.â€
State Sen. Dave Aronberg, Democrat-Geenacres, has filed a lawsuit against the write-in candidate John Taylor and Supervisor of Elections Corley seeking to disqualify Taylor from the race.
â€œBut unfortunately thereâ€™s a sneaky loophole in the law that was exploited by one of the candidates. One of the candidates recruited a write-in candidate to run. And when that write-in candidate filled out a piece of paper to run, the race was closed only to Republicans, which meant that 170,000 Pasco County voters were disenfranchised. And thatâ€™s why weâ€™re suing in Pasco County, because this write-in candidate is a sham. Itâ€™s a sham because itâ€™s not a real candidacy and itâ€™s not even a real address. That write-in candidate doesnâ€™t even live in the district. And thatâ€™s how weâ€™re going to get this guy off the ballot. And once heâ€™s off the ballot, that election will be open to everyone.â€
Aronberg has been trying to reform the closed primary system, including by requiring all write-in candidates to live in the district at the time of qualifying.
A hearing on Aronbergâ€™s lawsuit is scheduled for July 17, but Corley hopes it will be sooner.
Aronberg told WMNF he would also like the hearing to be sooner.
A similar controversy is taking place in Hillsboroughâ€™s race for the District 2 County Commission seat currently held by Ken Hagan. Haganâ€™s Republican opponent, Tom Aderhold, thinks a write-in candidate joined the race just three days before the close of the qualifying period with the intent of closing the primary to non-Republicans.
Aderhold said he has calculated that if the primary remains closed, it will disenfranchise 53 percent of the districtâ€™s registered voters. So he has filed a challenge to the legitimacy of the candidacy of write-in candidate Harold Gleason with the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections.
Aderhold said he is pursuing both of those channels. WMNF attempted to speak with Harold Gleason, the write-in candidate, but we were unable to reach him by phone.
The primary election is Aug. 26. The deadline to register is July 28. Only voters who are registered with a particular party may vote in that partyâ€™s primary election.