Republican Yukong Zhao sues to get on CD 7 ballot after failing to qualify

Yukong Zhao
Zhao says his check was on time, but the department didn't check the mail.

Republican Yukong Zhao is suing the Florida Department of State to try to get onto the ballot in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, contending the department failed to follow its own emergency rules adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, costing him his candidacy.

In a lawsuit filed in Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit in Tallahassee, Zhao asks the court to order the department, Secretary of State Laurel Lee and others to place him on the ballot.

On April 25 the Division of Elections ruled that Zhao failed to qualify by the deadline for federal office elections.

Zhao, an Orlando businessman and Chinese American civil rights activist, claims his qualifying papers and fee checks were delivered on time but the department failed to check its mail before the 10:30 a.m. deadline on the final day of qualifying.

The action, his lawsuit contends, flies in the face of the department’s own emergency rule providing potential candidates some flexibility in trying to make the ballot amid the statewide coronavirus emergency.

“It is unconscionable that bureaucratic red tape would be used during this pandemic to disqualify a candidate like me who loves this country dearly and followed the rules to the letter,” Zhao said. “I would like tens of thousands of my supporters to know that I am confident that we will win this case.”

Two Republicans qualified for the ballot in CD 7, which covers Seminole County and parts of northern and central Orange County — radiologist Leo Valentin of Orlando and financier Richard Goble of Lake Mary. They are to square off in the August 18 primary for the chance to take on Democratic incumbent Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park in the November election.

Zhao’s suit contends his campaign confirmed the U.S. Postal Service had delivered his paperwork including his $10,440 check to cover qualifying fees to the department’s designated address by 9:30 a.m. on April 25.

While the division previously had warned candidates that mail is not delivered directly to the offices, and that the U.S. Postal Service’s delivery schedule does not necessarily coincide with the division’s deadlines, the division never explicitly disclosed when mail is checked, the suit contends.

The option of hand-delivering the paperwork would have violated stay-at-home orders in both Orange County, where Zhao lives, and Leon County, where the Division of Elections office is, because candidacy for elected office has not been designated an essential job under emergency orders, the lawsuit contends.

“Accordingly, Mr. Zhao has no choice but to seek emergency relief from this Court. FDOS violated state law by applying an inoperative rule to disqualify Mr. Zhao, ignoring the Emergency Rule then in effect,” the lawsuit charges. “Further, to the extent FDOS has instead interpreted its Emergency Rule to silently incorporate a secret mail hold and pickup schedule, such a reading of the Rule is inconsistent with its plain language and stated purposes.”

The lawsuit asks the court to order defendants to accept Zhao’s paperwork as timely filed and certify him as a duly qualified candidate for the ballot.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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