Candidates seek 45-day extension of qualification deadlines
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.

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Congressional candidates say allowing digital petition signatures doesn't help with an already passed deadline.

Candidates struggling to qualify for the ballot because of the COVID-19 pandemic have asked for an extension on all deadlines.

Specifically, a 45-candidate coalition wants 45 days more to meet requirements and for qualification fees to be cut by 70%.

Congressional candidates Cindy Banyai and Michael Bluemling Jr. issued the call during an online press conference Tuesday.

“It’s not for us. It’s for the process,” said Banyai, a Democrat running in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. “It’s so the people of Florida can be confident they have a free and fair elections process.”

The current ask from candidates is substantially less than it has been before. Previously, the bipartisan group called for qualification feed to be waived. They amplified that call after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order, which made petition gathering all but impossible.

The group has made some inroads with the state. Secretary of State Laurel Lee signed off on an emergency rule allowing for digital signatures for petitions.

But that order came after the March 23 deadline for federal candidates to submit petitions already passed, so it was of no benefit to congressional candidates.

Bluemling, a Republican running in Florida’s 21st Congressional District, said the Governor needs to make sure rules are fair for all candidates.

“We need great leadership by the Governor to be fair and impartial and to allow the best candidates on the ballot,” he said.

The federal candidates made clear they seek a 45-day extension from the March deadline. That would give them until May 7 to submit deadlines. Congressional candidates in Florida may pay a $10,440 qualification fee as well by noon on April 24. A deadline extension there would mean they had until June 7.

Of course, most candidates signed onto to the effort seek state offices. For them, the deadline to submit petitions is May 11 and the final qualification deadline is May 25. A 45-day push on those dates would allow petitions to be turned in as late as June 25 and pay a fee as late as August 9. That puts qualification startlingly close to the Aug. 18 state primary.

And not all candidates see a need for leeway. Dane Eagle, a Republican also running for Congress in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, said he thinks it would be unfair to change deadlines when some campaigns are prepared to pay the fee as it.

“It’s not necessary,” he said. “We had all the time in the world to prepare for this and we knew this was coming.”

Blumeling and Banyai, though, said leaving qualification requirements as is will only benefit candidates with personal wealth or establishment backing and leave grassroots candidates in the cold.

And Allen Ellison, a Democrat running in Florida’s 17th Congressional District, said in effect, leaving fees in place that are already much higher than other states particularly hurts candidates in poor and rural areas.

“For a state to implement such barriers to get on the ballot is unconstitutional on its face in my opinion,” Ellison said.

Jacob Ogles

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 [email protected]


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