Ronald Bray submitted all the required paperwork to qualify as a write-in candidate on the Nov. 4 general election for the seat of state House District 96.
Two candidates from the Democratic Party qualified to have their names printed on the ballot.
Article VI, §5(b) of the Florida Constitution provides that primaries are open to all voters regardless of party affiliation where the winner of the primary “will have no opposition in the general election.”
In the Fourth District Court of Appeal, any opposition, even write-in candidates, precludes the application of the clause, and keeps the primary closed. Telli v. Snipes, 98 So.3d 1284 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012).
Bray, as a write-in candidate, is the only opposition candidate for the general election for House District 96. Because Bray is an opposition candidate, the Democratic primary in the district was going to be held as a closed primary.
Robert Adams filed suit in Leon Circuit Court, challenging Bray’s qualifications to run as a write-in candidate for House District 96. Adams was not registered as a voter with any political party.
Adams sought injunctive and declaratory relief removing Bray from the ballot and allowing all voters to vote in the Democratic primary for the district covering parts of Margate, Coconut Creek and Parkland. Section 99.0615, Fla. Stat., provides: “At the time of qualification, all write-in candidates must reside within the district represented by the office sought.”
Adams argued Bray “was ineligible to qualify to run as a write-on candidate as of the date he filed his qualification papers” under state law because he “was not a bona fide resident of the district for which he attempted to qualify to represent as of the date he filed his qualification papers.” Adams also named Brenda Snipes, the supervisor of elections of Broward County, and Ken Detzner, Florida’s secretary of the state, as defendants. The State Executive Committee of the Florida Democratic Party intervened as a party in the case.
Bray acknowledged he was not a resident of the district when he filed his qualification papers in June. Bray contended the requirement that write-in candidates reside in the district represented by the office sought at the time of qualification was invalid because it conflicted with the qualification requirements set forth in Article III, Section 15, of the Florida Constitution, which provides that a candidate reside in the district on the date of the election.
The parties agreed to an expedited schedule, and competing motions for summary judgment were filed by the parties July 9. Bray and the Florida Democratic Party requested Judge George S. Reynolds III to find §99.0615, Fla. Stat., unconstitutional.
Adams and the secretary of state defended the constitutionality of §99.0615, arguing it did not conflict with the Florida Constitution because it only applied to write-in candidates and therefore did not add to or modify the qualifications for office established by the Florida Constitution.
On Friday, Reynolds entered a final summary judgment in favor of Bray, ruling the section was unconstitutional. The judge adopted the arguments made by Bray and rejected the arguments made by Adams and the secretary of state.
Reynolds found that although the section was enacted for a legitimate purpose, it was unconstitutional. Relying on State v. Grassi, 532 So.2d 1055, 1056 (Fla. 1988) and Miller v. Mendez, 804 So.2d 1243, 1246 (Fla. 2001), Reynolds found, “The Legislature may not invade the province of the express constitutional prescription regarding qualification for office.”
Since Article III, Section 15 of the Florida Constitution set forth the residency requirements to qualify for office for the Legislature, §99.06105, Fla. Stat., was unconstitutional because it added to or modified such qualifications for write-in candidates.
Reynolds’ ruling provides that write-in candidates are subject to the same residency requirement as candidates appearing on the ballot by paying the filing fee or obtaining the required number of signatures. Adams filed a notice of appeal to the First District Court of Appeal.
A contrary result was recently reached by Broward Circuit Judge Sandra Perlman in the case of a write-in candidate for the Broward County Commission. Perlman ruled §99.0615, Fla. Stat., was constitutional and Grassi was distinguishable. The ruling has been appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeal. In light of these two cases, it is likely that this issue will ultimately be decided by the Florida Supreme Court.