Second-place candidate in CD 20 Primary Election files suit against results
Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (second from left) receives congratulations from supporters Friday night after being declared the winner in the Democratic Primary Special Election for Congressional District 20.

Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick
The loser by five votes, Dale Holness is alleging the winner's promises to voters amounted to a bribe.

The second-place finisher in the Special Democratic Primary for Congressional District 20 has filed litigation contesting the results, alleging the winner misled voters with promises of money.

Dale Holness, who resigned from the Broward County Commission to run for the seat vacated when Alcee Hastings died in office, is contesting his loss to Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick. Holness lost by just five votes to Cherfilus-McCormick.

In addition to going after Cherfilus-McCormick, Holness is suing the Broward Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott, the Broward County Canvassing Board and the Elections Canvassing Commission, which is in charge of canvassing the returns of all congressional elections.

The suit was filed in 17th Circuit Court on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.

The 21-page suit raises numerous issues. Chief among the allegations, however, is that Cherfilus-McCormick falsely promised voters in the majority Black district that a ballot cast for her would put money in their pocket. That’s in violation of Florida statutes that forbid offering money to secure votes, the suit says.

Part of her campaign included her “People’s Prosperity Plan” that called for adults earning less than $75,000 annually to receive a monthly $1,000 check. Campaign materials with the plan are included in the suit.

“At all times relevant to this action, (Cherfilus-McCormick) knew this promise was a gimmick designed only to motivate people to vote for her,” the suit says. Cherfilus-McCormick “mislead (sic) voters to the extent that several voters believed that they would be picking up a $1,000 check on Election Day … In fact, immediately after voting, several voters presented to the Supervisor of Elections staff personnel and campaign workers requesting how they were to receive their $1,000 payment for voting.”

The suit also alleges:

  • Cherfilus-McCormick has not filed the proper disclosure form about her personal finances required when a candidate raises more than $5,000 for a campaign. That renders her ineligible for office, the suit says. Her campaign was largely self-funded with campaign finance forms showing that she loaned her campaign $3.7 million.
  • Twelve active-duty military ballots and the ballots of six military dependents should have been considered and were rejected, the suit says. These ballots arrived within 10 days after the election and were rejected during a Nov. 12 meeting of the Broward County Canvassing Board. The board determined there was no evidence these ballots were from overseas. The evidence was needed for them to be counted 10 days after the election, according to the majority of canvassing board members That was in error, the suit says.

Cherfilus-McCormick, could not be reached for comment, but Larry Davis, her lawyer, told the Sun-Sentinel that Holness’ complaint was “baseless” and would be dismissed quickly.

Scott, Broward County’s Supervisor of Elections, told the paper he did not comment on pending litigation.

Cherfilus is still facing a Jan. 11 Special Election in which she will compete with the winner of the Special Republican Primary Jason Mariner. The district, which straddles Palm Beach and Broward counties leans heavily Democratic and Cherfilus-McCormick is widely regarded as the de facto winner of the congressional seat.

The Special Democratic Primary Election Nov. 2 had attracted 11 candidates to enter the race to succeed Hastings. The results were so close, a recount was done in both counties’ elections offices.

This is the first election Cherfilus-McCormick, a health care executive, has ever won. If all goes as expected, she will be the first Haitian American elected to serve as a Democrat in Congress.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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