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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rouson calls for election reform for write-ins



Hours after he was sworn into office, Democratic state Rep. Darryl Rouson today called for reform of Florida election laws that he says can lead to the abuse of taxpayer dollars.

He's speaking from personal experience.

Write-in candidates such as the opponent Rouson defeated in Tuesday's District 55 general election should be required to meet stricter qualification criteria to ensure they are viable candidates, Rouson said as he toured his new Tallahassee stomping grounds this morning.

"There is an abuse of the write-in process that sometimes is used to the disservice of the people," he said. "Everyone should have the opportunity to run for office and everyone should have the opportunity to serve. But we have to find a way to add some credibility and integrity to the write-in process."

Rouson, a St. Petersburg lawyer, trounced Republican write-in candidate Calvester Benjamin-Anderson in an election that saw the lowest vote turnout of any election in Pinellas County since 1995. Rouson got 93 percent of the vote.

Fewer than 1,650 Pinellas voters, or about 3.8 percent, cast ballots. Voter turnout across the district, which spans Hillsborough, Sarasota, Manatee and Pinellas Counties, was even lower. About 2,402 people voted, or 3.4 percent.

The election cost taxpayers $165,000, or about $69 for every person who voted.

Write-in candidates pay no qualifying fee and file no petitions and their names don't appear on the ballot. But their mere presence can close a primary that would otherwise be open.

That was the case in the District 55 race, where initially no Republicans qualified. But after Benjamin-Anderson entered the race, the March Democratic primary was closed, preventing non-Democrats from voting in the primary. It also triggered a general election in which Rouson was the only name to appear on the ballot.

Benjamin-Anderson said she was a serious candidate who intended to represent the district, but she turned down numerous offers to participate in election debates and some questioned the authenticity of her campaign.

"District 55 went unrepresented for an additional three weeks because of this," Rouson said. "I don't want to deny write-in candidates, but we need to look at their qualifications. When there is no debate in the public forum with the write-in candidate that is a red flag."

-- Cristina Silva, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 10:51am]


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