TAMPA — Registered Republicans alone will pick the successor for Jim Norman's old state Senate seat representing parts of northwest Hillsborough and central and eastern Pasco counties.
Local Democrats failed to field a candidate to replace Wes Johnson, the Democrat who dropped out of the election Aug. 1 for undisclosed personal reasons — after early voting had begun. The deadline to name a replacement was Thursday.
Division of Elections officials have decided to keep the Senate District 17 Republican primary closed, which means the winner of that three-way race — political newcomer John Korsak, state Rep. John Legg and former state Rep. Rob Wallace — will automatically be the new senator, according to an email that division chief Kristi Reid Bronson sent Thursday to Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley.
"Many ballots have already been cast in this contest through absentee and early voting. The Florida Election Code does not require or authorize these validly-cast votes to be disregarded under these circumstances," Bronson wrote. "The Division of Elections does not intend to amend the ballot certification for this race."
One scenario earlier described by state officials to local party leaders and Korsak had been to move the race to the general ballot in November, opening it to Democrats and independents.
That possibility raised all kinds of questions, including what to do with the absentee ballots and early votes already cast by registered Republicans.
Hillsborough Democratic chairman Chris Mitchell, who confirmed Wednesday the details of that scenario, did not return a phone call Thursday evening seeking comment.
He earlier had said that opening the race to Democrats and independent voters would have been the fairest way to handle the situation. He said he thought it would have forced all three Republicans to move toward the middle on various issues.
Bronson did not address that scenario in her email but noted that state law does not address the unusual circumstance: What to do when a candidate withdraws after voting has begun and the party can't find a replacement.
The Department of State, which includes the elections division, has the authority to decide how to proceed.
Korsak said Wednesday that he would support a move by the state to open the Republican primary. On Thursday, he issued a news release changing his view.
"Had the Democrats never fielded a candidate, then all registered voters in District 17 would have had the opportunity to cast a vote in this primary," Korsak said. "However, losing their only candidate well after qualifying, and in the middle of the primary, does not make this a problem that needs to be resolved by Republicans."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.