Eight write-in candidates from across the state, including two state Senate candidates in South Florida, are the subject of ethics complaints filed Thursday over their financial disclosure forms.
In an election in which only members of one party are running, a primary is open to all voters. But if any other candidate — including a write-in candidate — enters the race, the primary is open only to registered party voters.
“Write-in candidates are almost always put up by a candidate and his or her political consultants,” said Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who filed the complaints along with Sherry Plymale, who sits on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.
If a candidate determines he or she would benefit from only having party members vote, they can convince a write-in candidate to enter the race.
The complaints over these eight write-in candidates stem not from this process, which is legal — though “unethical and undemocratic,” according to Aronberg — but from incomplete financial disclosure forms.
Of the eight write-in candidates, four are Democrats and four are Republicans. The two in South Florida are in Democratic state Senate races, preventing Republicans in the West Palm Beach Senate District 30 and Fort Lauderdale Senate District 34 from voting in the Aug. 28 Democratic primaries.
In both cases, there is evidence that the write-in candidates are in the race at the behest of Democratic incumbents who face challengers within their own party.
In state Senate District 30, state Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, faces fellow Democrat Rubin Anderson. The write-in candidate in that race, Josh Santos, had his financial disclosure form notarized by Tradrick McCoy, a former legislative aide for Powell.
And in state Senate District 34, state Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, faces fellow Democrat Jim Waldman. Write-in candidate Richard Hal Sturm had his financial disclosure notified by Judy Stern, a Broward political consultant who worked on Farmer’s 2016 campaign, according to campaign finance reports.
Powell, Farmer and Stern all did not return requests for comment.
Aronberg said he was aware of the notary stamps tying the write-in candidates to the Democratic incumbents.
“But that’s not the subject of the complaint,” he said. “I’m not taking sides in any of these races; I just think it’s undemocratic to disenfranchise voters.”
All candidates must submit forms listing assets and liabilities, and they must swear under oath that the forms are accurate. Aronberg and Plymale say the eight write-in candidates submitted incorrect forms.
“The goal here is that no longer will write-in candidates receive a free pass for manipulating an election,” Aronberg said. “Their write-in status should never be something they can hide behind.”
No write-in candidate has ever won state office in Florida. Their names do not appear on the ballot, and only write-in candidates who have qualified to run for office can receive votes. This prevents the unlikely event of a joke candidate winning the election.
Aronberg and Plymale tried to get a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot to open Florida primaries to all voters. The Constitutional Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years to put amendments on the ballot, rejected the proposed amendment.
“I’ve been fighting the write-in loophole for years, but the Constitution Revision Commission rejected our amendment to close the loophole. Sherry and I decided to take another approach,” Aronberg said. “It’s a shame. Write-in candidates have been able to disenfranchise millions of Florida voters without any consequence.”
The complaints went to the Florida Commission on Ethics and the Department of State, which will determine whether to fine the candidates or give the information to other agencies for further investigation.
The six other write-in candidates that are the subject of complaints include Tampa area candidates for state House Valion Joyce and Jose Vazquez; candidate for state attorney for the 20th Circuit Joseph Hoffman; and three North Florida county commission candidates: Jared Reddick, William “Bill” Kruse and Barbara Brooke.
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