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Write-in candidacy blocks Democrats' vote

A sign for John Nicolette, running for Pasco County Commission, District 1, sits in property listed as belonging to John Taylor, a write-in candidate for Pasco County Commission.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

A sign for John Nicolette, running for Pasco County Commission, District 1, sits in property listed as belonging to John Taylor, a write-in candidate for Pasco County Commission.

John M. Taylor's name will not be on the ballot, but his fingerprints are on John Nicolette's campaign to unseat County Commissioner Ted Schrader.

Taylor, a recently minted Republican who has supported Nicolette, qualified Friday as a write-in candidate for east Pasco's District 1, a move that will allow only Republicans to vote in the highly contested race between Schrader and Nicolette.

That means the 170,000 Democrats and other voters will have virtually no role in deciding the next commissioner. The winner of the Aug. 26 primary will appear on the November ballot next to a space for the write-in candidate. No Democrat is in the running.

"I just think that Republicans should vote for Republicans," Taylor said Friday.

Pasco election records show Taylor switched to Republican from Democrat in March, and has not voted in Pasco since 1989.

Taylor's bid could help Nicolette's chances by increasing the clout of local Republican activists that Nicolette has wooed. But his write-in campaign faces attacks on its legitimacy.

Schrader and Democratic leaders accused Taylor of violating Florida election law by not actually living in the district.

County property records, an occupational license — even an answering machine for the Taylors — indicate a Lutz address outside District 1 was his home as the qualifying deadline for the race passed at noon Friday.

Florida law says a write-in candidate must live in the district at the qualifying deadline. Taylor filed his campaign paperwork using a Wesley Chapel address in the district, a home that he said his family owns.

But Taylor has a $25,000 homestead exemption on property taxes for a Lutz house in the Carpenter's Run neighborhood. He bought it in 1988, and claimed the home as an asset on his campaign financial disclosure form filed Thursday. No one had applied to change the exemption as of Friday, chief deputy property appraiser Wade Barber said.

The address on John Taylor Enterprises' occupational license? The Lutz house.

And the home's voice mail welcomed callers to leave a message for the Taylors — until it was changed soon after the Times left a message at midday Friday.

It wasn't the only quick change, though. Taylor's address for his voter registration was switched to the Wesley Chapel property from Lutz on Tuesday.

The mobile home on the 1-acre Wesley Chapel site on Tyndall Road isn't owned by Taylor, and does not have a homestead exemption.

It did have a shiny purple sign for Nicolette on Friday.

In a phone interview, Taylor said he was not trying to help Nicolette. After acknowledging he has never voted in Pasco, he quickly hung up, saying he had a meeting at work. No one at the new home returned phone messages.

Pasco Democratic Party Chairwoman Alison Morano accused Republicans of trying to control who votes. Alluding to Taylor's residency issue, she said, "It's not surprising they would choose someone who probably would do something wrong."

Pasco GOP Chairman Bill Bunting, who has lauded Nicolette, said he was not involved in Taylor's running, and didn't recognize his name.

However, it's not like Taylor, 49, hasn't helped Nicolette before. Taylor signed a petition April 22 that helped Nicolette qualify as a candidate, according to the Supervisor of Elections Office.

Taylor and his wife also paid Nicolette $90,000 in January 2003 for 8 acres just south of Nicolette's ranch off Darby Road near Dade City.

Pressed on the land sale, the petition and the sign, Nicolette repeatedly said Friday he had "absolutely no role" in Taylor's decision to run. But he said, "Republicans should elect their candidates."

Then he ended his call to the Times, promising to call back. He didn't.

"It's really unfortunate because county commissioners obviously impact lives on a daily basis," Schrader said. "Certainly, those voters don't have a say on who represents them, particularly on issues like property taxes."

Schrader initially said he would challenge Taylor's residency, but later said it may be more appropriate for a sidelined voter to challenge him.

"He's violating the intent of the law," Schrader said.

Under a 2007 election law — better known for requiring paper ballots and this year's early presidential primary — write-in candidates must live in the district they seek to represent at the time they qualify.

The author of the write-in requirement, state Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, said Taylor appears to be just the kind of candidate he sought to stop. And he encouraged anyone to challenge Taylor.

"It's not a real address, and it's not a real candidacy," Aronberg said.

But Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley said disproving someone's residency is tough, because it's a legal gray area. According to legal advisories from the Florida Division of Elections, residency has to be defined by a person's current home and their intention to stay there.

"It's extremely difficult," Corley said.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6232.

Write-in candidacy blocks Democrats' vote 06/20/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 26, 2008 4:56pm]
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