Closed primaries scrutinized in Pasco, Hillsborough

07/08/08 Seán 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 party’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.

“There 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 you’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 you’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.”

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.

“But unfortunately there’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 that’s why we’re suing in Pasco County, because this write-in candidate is a sham. It’s a sham because it’s not a real candidacy and it’s not even a real address. That write-in candidate doesn’t even live in the district. And that’s how we’re going to get this guy off the ballot. And once he’s off the ballot, that election will be open to everyone.”

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 Aronberg’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 Hillsborough’s race for the District 2 County Commission seat currently held by Ken Hagan. Hagan’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 district’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 party’s primary election.

Sen.Dave Aronberg

Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian E. Corley

Tom Aderhold, candidate for Hillsborough County Commission, District 2

Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections

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