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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Democrats challenge write-in Pasco County Commission candidate



Democrats have filed a court challenge to the write-in candidacy of John M. Taylor, who recently filed to run in the hotly contested County Commission race for the District 1 seat.

The race originally included two Republicans, incumbent Ted Schrader and John Nicolette, a part-time firefighter and son-in-law of retired county attorney Robert Sumner. Because only two members of the same party sought the seat, all voters would be able to cast ballots, until Taylor filed earlier this month.

Announcing the Democrats' charge was state Sen. Dave Aronberg, of Greenacres, who launched a statewide fight against the use of write-in candidates to close elections to only members of the candidates' party. The lawsuit is getting free help from New Port Richey lawyer Robert Altman, who also is running for clerk of the circuit court.

Plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are Steve Byle, a Democrat from Hudson, and Deborah Lopez, a voter with no party affiliation from Zephyrhills. They seek Taylor's disqualification as a write-in candidate, which will open up the election to them and all Pasco County voters.

In 1998, voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that opens primary elections to all voters if all candidates in the race come from the same political party. But in 2000, a State Division of Elections opinion said that write-in candidates close primary elections because they are considered a general election candidate, even though they pay no filing fee, collect no petition signatures and their names never appear on the ballot.

In 2007,  Aronberg was able to pass an amendment that began to tighten the reins on write-in candidates by requiring them to live in the district they seek to represent. "The residency requirement was intended for cases like this one, where neither the candidacy nor the home address is real," said Aronberg.

The lawsuit, filed in Pasco County Circuit Court, names John M. Taylor and Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley as defendants.

The lawsuit alleges that Taylor lives outside of District 1 and thus is ineligible to run as a write-in candidate. Although Taylor claims to live in the district, he claims his homestead exemption on a home outside of the district and his occupational license lists his home as outside of the district. In fact, the lawsuit alleges that the home that Taylor claims as his residence is actually the residence of a couple unrelated to Taylor.

"We are confident that this lawsuit will give thousands of Pasco residents the right to choose their County Commissioner, and hopefully deter future sham candidates from outside the district who attempt to manipulate elections," attorney Altman said.

-- Lisa Buie, Times staff writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:29am]


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