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Will mistake wipe two Democrats off the Tampa ballot? In the end, voters lose

What a tempest brewing over whether two Hillsborough commission candidates will get booted off the ballot. And what a shame for voters if it's for nothing more than a needlessly blown deadline.

Tampa City Council members John Dingfelder and Linda Saul-Sena, despite being seasoned politicians, missed the deadline to turn in letters saying when they would resign their city seats.

Both could have stayed on the council through the November election. But by law, they had to submit resignation letters at least 10 days before the election qualifying period, meaning June 4. Both submitted letters June 15.

And elections are built on rules. Just ask Polk County's Neil Combee, who didn't make the ballot for state House because his qualifying check was a penny less than it was supposed to be.

So maybe you're asking: What's with this 10-day stuff? Why can't candidates just submit all their papers during qualifying week?

Here's a great reason: So other potential candidates know well ahead of the qualifying deadline that a seat will be open. More fair, less potential for manipulation. Think U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite's announcement that she wouldn't run for re-election minutes after Hernando Sheriff Richard Nugent qualified just before deadline. It still leaves a bad taste.

The system weakens without rules, and it can't treat the candidate we like better than the one we think is a bozo. A few days past deadline is arguably no different from election eve. This is all true even if a part of us thinks: Let voters decide what to make of a candidate who doesn't make deadline.

The law also says any sitting politician running for another office who resigns effective immediately "may then qualify for office as a non-officeholder." Meaning: Once you're not in office, the rules about running as an officer don't apply to you. Dingfelder, and then Saul-Sena, abruptly quit the City Council. A bummer for constituents counting on them through November.

"Then" is an interesting word in that legalese. How do you qualify when the qualifying deadline has passed? Or did you technically already qualify?

Legal minds are ruminating. No doubt the question of whether they make the ballot will land in the hands of a judge. If Republicans take aim at the two Democrats, we should remember Democrats might do the same in similar circumstances, and with equal glee. This is the current state of our politics.

Saul-Sena and Dingfelder both will get justifiably pummeled for this mistake. But you had to respect Dingfelder's reaction: "It was my responsibility to know these things." The Saul-Sena camp, however, sent a laughable press release saying she was resigning "to focus solely on her campaign," breezily mentioning the law but not a peep about a blown deadline.

A 2008 case of a Florida House candidate removed from the ballot in Leon County after he failed to file a resignation letter in time will not likely help them.

But one small point for the keep-'em-on-the-ballot side: If the 10-day window is to give others time to consider the open seat, nobody got hurt here. Qualifying for city elections isn't until January.

But rules are rules, the same for you and for me and that bozo guy.

And what a shame, in the end, if it means less choice for voters.

Will mistake wipe two Democrats off the Tampa ballot? In the end, voters lose 06/24/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 24, 2010 7:35pm]
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