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Candidates held a press conference via video conferencing. Pictured clockwise from top left: Cindy Banyai, Michael Bluemling Jr., Willie Anderson, Sakinah Lehtolo, Adam Christensen, and Darlene Swaffar.

2020

Grassroots candidates say shutdown makes qualification waiver more pressing than ever

Lockdown hinders petition gathering, fundraising for many campaigns.

A group of candidates asking that qualification fees be waived amplified their call in the wake of a statewide lockdown.

“It is no longer possible to conduct face to face campaign events, including gathering petitions, with the stay-at-home order for at least the next 30 days,” a joint statement reads.

“State and county offices supporting the elections process have been closed without any guidance to candidates on how they can qualify for the ballot given these extenuating circumstances.”

The group of candidates, now at 42, previously called on a change in deadlines for petition gathering to qualify for the ballot. On the day petitions were due for federal candidates, the group held a press conference and issued a call for the qualification fee to be waived or reduced.

“They’re going to have to do something,” said Michael Bluemling, Jr., a candidate in Florida’s 21st Congressional District.

The Delray Beach Republican said he knew at some point Florida would have to follow California and New York in issuing a statewide stay-at-home order. DeSantis did so on Wednesday, with it taking effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

“But because of the statewide shutdown, workers are not there to process paperwork at our election centers.”

Bluemling, who faces a well-funded primary opponent in blogger Laura Loomer on his way to challenging a long-time incumbent Democrat in Rep. Lois Frankel, said it’s critical accommodations be made.

“I made a good faith effort in both money raised and petitions signed,” he said. But with COVID-19 striking Florida at precisely the time candidates were in a final push to get n the ballot, the process has proven to be too much.

He joined forces with Cindy Banyai, a Democrat running to succeed Rep. Francis Rooney in a Republican stronghold, Florida’s 19th Congressional District.

Banyai raised just barely enough in 2019 to cover the $10,440 qualification fee for candidates in the state, but was pushing to qualify by petition.

Regardless of whether dollars or placards were supposed to put a candidate on the ballot, the process has been sidelined by COVID-19. Candidates cannot hold fundraisers. Standing in public spaces to gather signatures would be a health risk, and there’s no crowds anyway.

A letter penned by Bluemling and Banyai on Wednesday asks Secretary of State Laurel Lee and Gov. Ron DeSantis do act on the qualification process both for the sake of public health and the sake of democracy.

“We request you remove the ballot verification deadline and qualifying date, in addition to waiving or reducing the filing fee for all currently active candidates. With the utmost concerns for our citizens and our country, we know you will act on this immediately,” the two wrote.

The letter is co-signed by 14 other Congressional candidates, including four Republicans besides Bluemling and 10 Democrats beyond Banyai.

Additionally five state Senate candidates, 18 state House candidates and three county commission candidates sign.

Federal candidate qualifying takes place from April 20 to 24.

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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