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Secretary of State Laurel Lee..

2020

Laurel Lee will ‘closely assess’ accommodations for candidate qualification

A bipartisan coalition of candidates wants fees waived amid pandemic.

As a growing number of candidates demand that qualification requirements be waived, Florida officials promised only to monitor the situation.

“As is always the case, the Florida Department of State will closely assess all conditions that affect the August and November elections, including any ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Laurel Lee, Florida Secretary of State, in a statement to Florida Politics.

“We, like you and the rest of the nation, are monitoring the coronavirus pandemic, and we will recommend any appropriate accommodations or decisions as we move closer to the election dates and understand more about the ongoing impact to our state.”

That comes a day after the deadline passed for federal candidates to submit required signature cards to qualify by petition.

A group of candidates, including 12 for Congress, held a press conference Monday shortly after the deadline passed. The group, along with a number of state candidates, has called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to reduce or eliminate qualification fees required to appear on the ballot.

That fee for Congressional candidates is $10,440 in Florida.

“It’s necessary to reduce the fee for the lot of us to compete,” said Michael Vilardi, a Republican challenging Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel in Florida’s 21st Congressional District.

Not everyone agrees though.

Tom Vaughn, a political consultant working with Republican candidate Nick Vessio on a challenge to Rep. Brian Mast in the GOP primary, said a change in qualification requirements simply isn’t allowed.

“There is no emergency statutory authority for the request to the Governor made by a variety of candidates for public office to have filing fees reduced, or time extensions to gather necessary signatures for ballot qualification. Accordingly, while it certainly makes sense, the Florida State legislature never had the foresight to provide for such contingency,” Vaughn said.

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“Assuming Governor DeSantis had the willingness to grant the remedy requested, he would be exceeding the boundaries placed upon him by law.”

Vaughn believes the only remedy for candidates would be in the courts.

“My suggestion is that these candidates pool their poverty together and seek judicial relief, if they can find a lawyer to do it on the cheap,” he said. “If they prevail on the lower court level, it will then be the burden of either opposing candidates or government attorneys to justify appealing the determination.”

Cindy Banyai, a Democrat running for an open seat in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, noted the state of emergency already called by DeSantis and that courts are for the most part closed in Florida.

Lee said her office would continue to pay attention to all issues around the election. Her office just wrapped the Florida Presidential Preference Primary, which went ahead despite primaries being postponed in other states.

“Be assured that – as with last Tuesday’s election – we will work with local Supervisors to ensure the safety and well-being of Floridians and that Florida’s voters will have every opportunity to cast their ballot in the upcoming elections,” Lee said.

“Voters are encouraged to utilize the many resources available, including online voter registration, requesting vote-by-mail ballots and contacting their local Supervisor of Elections about upcoming election dates, including municipal elections.”

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

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Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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