Judge: Not so fast on special elections, Democrats

Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson said he wished he could move up the elections for the empty Senate District 31 and House District 114 seats, but he can't because state law allows for 45 days of absentee voting before special and general elections.
Judge Charles W. Dodson
Judge Charles W. Dodson
Published Dec. 8, 2017

Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson on Thursday rejected arguments by the Florida Democratic Party that special elections in two legislative districts should be held more quickly so the seats don't remain vacant through the upcoming legislative session.

Dodson said the timing of the resignations of former Sen. Jeff Clemens in Palm Beach County's Senate District 31 and former Rep. Daisy Baez in Miami-Dade County's House District 114 is "unfortunate."

But he said moving up special election dates set by Gov. Rick Scott could lead to an argument that shorter windows for absentee voting would prevent people from casting ballots.

"I wish I could do something," Dodson said. "But there really isn't time to do it."

Democratic Party attorney Mark Herron said after the hearing he would talk with party leaders but that an appeal may be difficult because of the special-election timelines.

State law requires 45 days for absentee voting before special and general elections. The party argued the requirement shouldn't apply to special elections. In the Senate district, Scott has scheduled a Jan. 30 special primary election and an April 10 general election.

Three candidates —- Democratic state Rep. Lori Berman, Lantana Democrat Arthur Morrison and Lake Worth Republican Tami Donnally — qualified for the race this week.

In the Miami-Dade House district, Scott has scheduled a special primary election Feb. 20 and a special general election May 1. The legislative session starts Jan. 9 and is scheduled to end March 9.

Clemens resigned from the Senate District 31 seat in late October after disclosures about an extramarital affair with a lobbyist, while Baez resigned from the House District 114 seat in early November after agreeing to plead guilty to a perjury charge in an investigation about her residency. Clemens and Baez are Democrats.