Five Green Party candidates quietly entered hotly contested state legislative races this year — a good showing for a minor party with no other candidates.
Except for this: The party didn't recruit them, knows nothing about them and doubts they are legitimate.
"It's all a mystery, and we're a little concerned," said Bonnie Redding, the local party representative in Palm Beach County.
So are Democrats, who worry the candidates will drain votes that would otherwise go to Democratic candidates.
State Sen. Dave Aronberg, a Palm Beach County Democrat who drew one of the challengers, calls it an "election scam."
"At first I didn't believe this is an election trick but it's starting to look that way," he said.
All five switched party affiliation to the Green Party within a month of the qualifying deadline — most within days — and one is a former Republican. Three of the candidates are running for seats in the Tampa Bay area, but two don't live in the districts they're seeking to represent.
Green Party leaders suggest it's a strategy by the state GOP, but Florida Republican Party officials said the party knows nothing about the Green candidates and don't think they'll have much effect on the election.
One of the candidates, Sarah Roman, said she's offended by suggestions she's a Republican Trojan horse. "I have educated myself about what the Green Party represents and feel it is closely aligned with my beliefs," she said in an e-mail.
The whole riddle is possible because of an obscure change to Florida election law last year.
Before the change, minor parties gave the state elections office an official list of their party's candidates. The Legislature eliminated that provision, allowing any person to run if he or she signs a loyalty oath affirming party membership, as major party candidates have done for years.
A St. Petersburg Times review of public records found no apparent link between the five candidates and no ties to the Green Party.
Aniana Robas, 28, was a registered independent when she qualified. Her status didn't change to the Green Party until Monday, a Hillsborough County election official said. She is running in Senate District 27. She lists a Riverview address, well outside the district.
On a social networking site, she lists her political views as moderate and religious views as Catholic. Reached through the site, she declined to comment.
Roman, 21, is the Green Party candidate in Hernando County's House District 44. She is challenging Republican incumbent Robert Schenck and a Democratic challenger. Roman was registered with no party affiliation but changed the day she qualified for the race. She lists a home address outside the district in Port Richey.
A camp counselor, Roman said her top priority is water conservation and preserving the Everglades. "I strongly believe we must preserve and protect our natural environment," she said.
Horacio Lemus IV, 21, qualified to run for Sarasota's House District 69, a seat held by a Democrat but targeted for defeat by Republicans. Lemus, who could not be reached for comment, became a member of the Green Party June 18, two days before he qualified for the race. He previously was a Democrat.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds and staff writers Molly Morehead and Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report. John Frank can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-6114.