BROOKSVILLE — With the election just weeks away, William Kingeter's campaign for Hernando School Board has been noticeably low key.
He has handed out some business cards. Made a few public appearances. But not much else.
Until recently, he didn't have lawn signs or banners. He hadn't rented out halls to make speeches or printed up much literature. He spent little time shaking hands in public places — libraries, grocery stores, shopping centers.
This wasn't part of his plan.
He just thought he had more time — that he was competing in the November election and not the Aug. 14 primary.
That's what Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams told him.
Turns out, the three-term elections official gave him the wrong election.
Now instead of months of campaigning, Kingeter has just over two weeks.
"It's a severe disadvantage," he said.
• • •
The problem began in early May.
Kingeter said he was at the Supervisor of Elections Office, signing documents and turning in all of the paperwork required to run for the District 2 School Board seat — financial reports, the oath of office, proof of Hernando County residence.
At some point, he said, he asked Williams a seemingly simple question:
When do I run? The August primary or the November general election?
With only two candidates in the nonpartisan race, the answer might not be obvious. But nothing too difficult for a veteran elections official, he thought.
Williams had one of her staffers look up the rule, he said. They turned to Florida Statute 100.041, which states that school board members will be elected at a general election.
"This is the ordinance in question," Kingeter remembered Williams telling him. "She read it, then assured me I would be running in November."
Turns out, she was wrong.
On Friday, Williams' office called him back and told him they looked at the wrong statute and that he would be on the Aug. 14 ballot against incumbent Matt Foreman, he said.
• • •
Williams admitted speaking with Kingeter, citing the wrong statute and telling him he would be competing in the general election.
"I told him that it would be on the general election. ... However, upon further clarification it was determined that his race will be on the primary ballot," she said.
She couldn't remember the exact date when they first talked. She said she talks to many candidates.
Williams said the correct statute in this case is 105.051.
"If two or more candidates, neither of whom is a write-in candidate, qualify for such an office, the names of those candidates shall be placed on the ballot at the primary election," it reads.
Williams had her staff call him.
That didn't cut it, Kingeter said.
"I took her at her word," he said.
Williams said most of the candidates know when their election is supposed to be. Foreman, for example, knew he was on the Aug. 14 primary ballot.
Williams, who is retiring this year, said she's never had this problem before.
School Board candidates have appeared on the primary ballot in the recent past under Williams' watch.
In 2010, current board members Dianne Bonfield and John Sweeney appeared in different races on the August primary ballot, each with only one opponent.
"There's absolutely no reason why the supervisor of elections doesn't have that information correct," said Hernando County Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who is also a friend of Kingeter. "There is no excuse for what she put this man through."
• • •
Kingeter was stunned by the news.
He said he has been stripped of valuable time to prepare for the election. He now has less than a month to order signs, put together campaign materials, gather all of the supplies needed and get everything distributed.
"This news comes as a total shocking surprise and sure puts an obstacle in front of an already difficult campaign," he told the Times.
Kingeter said he had plans for speaking engagements and fundraisers in October and early November.
Those are now useless.
In the meantime, Kingeter has a lot to do.
First thing Monday, he said, he was calling supporters and trying to put a rush order on his signs.
"I was running around like a chicken with no head," he said.
He knows it's going to be tough.
"I would have been out there gangbusters," he said.
Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432.