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"An insult to the voters'

It now appears Clyde J. Walters Sr. did Pinellas County voters (all Floridians, really) a favor when he filed as a write-in candidate for Pinellas County supervisor of elections.

After denying 340,000 potential voters the right to cast a ballot in the primary contest between Deborah Clark and Pat Baker, Walters on Thursday dropped out of the race.

"I'm probably not even qualified for the position," the Pinellas Park car salesman admitted. "I did what I wanted to do. I made my statement and I'm through."

What was Walters' statement? That one person, even one who admits he is unqualified for the job, can run a bogus write-in campaign and disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters.

It may not have been what he meant to accomplish, but Walters did all voters a favor by showing how easy it is to thwart the will of the people. That should be motivation enough for the Florida House of Representatives to quit equivocating and to close the write-in loophole for good.

In 1998, 64 percent of Florida voters approved a constitutional revision to open a party primary to all voters if no other party fielded a candidate. The message should have been loud and clear: Florida residents don't want party affiliation or one party's dominance to keep voters from having a voice in their government.

Politicians recognized the threat a write-in candidacy posed to the new law. Twice the state Senate proposed legislation that said the presence of a write-in candidate _ who has almost no chance of winning _ would not close a party primary to other voters. Twice the House refused to cooperate.

The Senate is ready to act again, said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor. "I think it's an insult to the voters not to close that loophole," he said. But House Speaker-designate Tom Feeney, also a Republican, is still indicating the House won't budge.

Feeney should listen to Pinellas County Republican voters. In the supervisor of elections race, candidate Baker encouraged someone, anyone, to file as a write-in. Walters, a Baker friend, denies she put him up to it, although he won't say who did. With the race closed to Democrats and others, Republican voters were not amused by the trick. They rejected Baker, electing Clark, a 22-year elections office employee, with 67 percent of the vote.

If Feeney and the House still aren't convinced, then they should take up Walters' challenge: "I'm not ashamed of what I did, and I'd do it again," he said. "If there's a loophole there, they should plug it."

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