Martin County GOP to Block Democrats from Voting in Local Races
Local Republicans say they're doing it to force Democrats to run as Democrats in local elections
By Jim Turner
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
STUART — Democrats and independents in Martin County might be blocked from voting for school superintendent, sheriff and the County Commission seat held by Doug Smith this August.
A group of Republicans are preparing to enter those races as non-party-affiliated write-in candidates to close those primary contests to GOP party members only.
Eric Miller, who declared his intentions to file for the school superintendent post as a write-in at a recent Republican Executive Committee meeting, said the move is about forcing Democrats to run as Democrats rather than to keep people from voting. Miller and other prospective write-in candidates have not yet filed to run.
"We're trying to send a message: If they want to run candidates, they need to run them as Democrats," said Miller, who owns a pair of local businesses and is the community action leader for Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Martin and St. Lucie counties.
Since 2000, this would be only the second time that a write-in candidate has closed an election in Martin County.
In 2004, state Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, was re-elected after defeating Charles Winn in a closed Republican primary and Fort Pierce resident Paul Andrew Smith in the general election. Smith, who rarely attended political forums and had no advertising, received 47 votes to Harrell's 59,131.
David Dew, the leader of the Martin County Democrats, said Democrat leaders have expected this to occur and still are hopeful more Democrats will come forward to run for countywide seats.
Teachers Union President Jeanette Phillips said this move is about keeping teachers who traditionally register as Democrats or independents from participating in the superintendent race.
"It's a dirty little tactic to do, to try and block a group of people from voting," Phillips said. "I hope they would be above all that."
Miller disagreed that was the intention.
Meanwhile, the union isn't endorsing any of the candidates — Wayne Gent, Nancy Kline, William N. Olds and Timothy Edward Sinclair — who have filed to replace Sara Wilcox as superintendent. However, Phillips said she would encourage those who want to vote in the election to register as a Republican.
Candidates, including write-ins, have until noon, June 20 to file. Voters have until July 28 to register or change party affiliations to vote in the Aug. 26 primary.
The write-ins don't plan to accept money, but Miller said he'd like to be invited to political forums.
The move is legal under the state's Universal Primary ballot created before the 2000 election as a means to allow all voters to participate in a primary election if only candidates from one party filed.
The loophole in the law is there can be no Universal Primary if a candidate faces opposition outside his party.
With 1,000 more Martin County residents registered as Republicans (48,938) than the sum of Democrats (27,828) and those with no party affiliation (20,103), Miller said too often Democrats and others file to run in Martin County as Republicans because they think it gives them a better chance to win.
And while Democrats are running candidates in two of the three open commission races, single party dominance has shifted the focus in the primary, Miller said. What should be discussions of party values tends to become the continuous "growth vs. no growth" debate, he added.
- Deadline noon, June 20
- There is no qualifying fee for write-in candidates.
- Write-in candidates must live in the district they seek to represent at the time of qualification.
- Write-in candidate names will not appear on the ballot, but the notation "Write-in" and a blank line will appear on the ballot beneath the other candidates for the office.
- Only write-in votes for qualified candidates are counted.
Florida Division of Elections
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(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Martin County Democratic Executive Committee has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Martin County Democratic Executive Committee endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)