Prison inmate qualifies as a write-in candidate

TAMPA — In papers filed with the state, Jose N. Vazquez lists his address as a prison facility near the south shore of Lake Okeechobee, where he is serving time on a felony conviction.

That didn't stop the state Division of Elections this week from declaring him a qualified write-in candidate for a state House of Representatives seat that includes parts of Tampa and Hillsborough County.

This despite state laws that require candidates to live in the districts they represent and prohibit felons from running for office until their rights have been restored.

Jennifer Davis, a spokeswoman for the Department of State, said it's not the department's job to check whether Vazquez lives in the district or is a felon.

"We are merely the clerical agency that takes in the papers," she said. "We don't investigate."

Davis said Vazquez turned in the proper forms and filled them out correctly. The paperwork included an oath signed under penalty of perjury saying he is qualified to hold office, Davis said.

Vazquez began his incarceration for a felony conviction of driving with a revoked or suspended license in May 2007. He's slated for release in early 2009. He had prior arrests on charges of criminal mischief and carrying a concealed weapon.

Because he's a write-in candidate, his name will not appear on the ballot.

He is seeking the District 58 seat held by Rep. Michael Scionti, D-Tampa, who also qualified to run this week.

Scionti was first elected to the state House in 2006. He said he's not concerned about Vazquez.

"I think I've done a fairly good job representing all of my constituents in Tallahassee. I've certainly fought for issues I thought were for the benefit of my community," he said.

Scionti is an Army Reserve captain and has spent much of the past two years deployed overseas. But he has participated in most of the last two legislative sessions. He has sponsored bills to protect law enforcement officers from people resisting arrest and to offer partial state university tuition waivers to veterans.

Scionti says he also helped bring $2-million in state funding to the district.

"My record stands for itself," Scionti said. "Mr. Vazquez has some personal matters that I'm hopeful he will correct. I wish him the best."

Because he is in prison, Vazquez could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Prison inmate qualifies as a write-in candidate 06/18/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2008 9:31am]

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