You can’t blame Angela Corey for being concerned that she might lose her job in November given the recent spate of district attorney elections in which once shoo-in incumbents have been thrown out of office following allegations against them of unethical behavior, zealously pro-carceral tendencies and police-shooting cover-ups. See: Forrest Allgood in Mississippi, Dale Cox in Louisiana, Anita Alvarez in Illinois, Timothy McGinty in Cleveland. These losses have mostly been suffered in the primaries rather than the general election – a trend Corey likely took note of when a reform-minded candidate, Melissa Nelson, entered her own race a week ago to vie for the Republican ticket.
But you should be taken aback at the tactic her supporters have used to try to rig the election. Up until two days ago, only Republican candidates were running for the office of State’s Attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit (Duval, Clay and Nassau Counties). Then, earlier this week, a write-in candidate suddenly entered the race – the paperwork for whom was filed by Corey’s campaign manager. This effectively closes the primary to Republican voters only, where otherwise it would have been open to all voters.
In order to understand the significance of what happened, it’s useful to know the three basic ways that an individual can become a candidate for office in Florida: 1. You can seek the nomination of a recognized political party; 2. You can run as an independent candidate; or 3. You can run as a write-in candidate. By statute, a write-in candidate goes on the general election ballot – not on the primary. And the name of the candidate won’t even appear on the ballot, as editorialist Ron Littlepage noted yesterday in the Florida Times-Union:
Instead they will be represented by blank lines that can be filled in.
In a wacky ruling last February, the Florida Supreme Court said having those blanks on the November ballot was sufficient to close a primary, which flies in the face of a constitutional amendment voters approved in 1998 calling for more voter access.
The effect of a write-in candidate entering the race is three-fold: (a) there will be a general election, not merely a primary election (because now there are not merely Republicans running, but also a write-in); (b) as a result of that, under Florida law the Republican primary – that would have otherwise been open to all voters, including Democrats and Independents, now switches to closed (i.e. Republican only); (c) and the practical impact of that is to make it more likely that Corey will win the primary. According to Ron Littlepage, the move will disenfranchise “440,000 voters in the three counties”.
Though Corey originally responded to media that “It wouldn’t have been my operation” that filed the paperwork for the write-in candidate, her campaign manager, Alexander Pantinakis, admitted to the press on Monday evening:
“I received and submitted Kenny Leigh’s documents on Thursday, May 5th solely in my capacity as the Duval County Republican State Committeeman,” … “Throughout my time as State Committeeman, I have always been a proponent of ensuring that only registered Republicans select Republican nominees for office and would question any Republican candidate who would reject that idea.”
These last-minute machinations give those voters in Jacksonville – Republican or otherwise – who want to hold Corey accountable all the more reason to do so in the August primary. This previous post outlines the allegations of unethical behavior and misuse of discretion that have plagued Corey as State’s Attorney. We will continue to watch this race closely.