Pilot Curtis Calabrese only recently entered the crowded race to succeed U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch in Florida’s 22nd Congressional District as a Democrat, but he may have to refile as a no party-affiliated candidate to comply with state election rules.
Calabrese, a U.S. Navy air combat veteran and former Federal Aviation Administration inspector, filed his statement of candidacy for the contest April 1. He filed as running under the Democratic Party.
However according to records from the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections, Calabrese has only been a Democrat in Florida since March 14, just over two weeks before he filed to run in CD 22.
Before that, he was registered as a Republican.
Florida law requires candidates to be a registered member of their chosen political party at least 365 days before the beginning of the qualifying period of a General Election.
Calabrese, 31, told Florida Politics that in 2008, shortly after registering as a Republican in Florida, he joined the military and moved out of state. He was stationed in Maryland, then Texas, then Hawaii.
For the last four years, he said, he lived in Los Angeles while working for the FAA.
Calabrese moved back to Boca Raton last month. He’s now a United Airlines pilot who, if elected, would be the first openly LGBTQ member of Congress from Florida.
While living in Los Angeles, Calabrese said, he registered to vote as a Democrat. A search of his voter registration on the Los Angeles County Clerk website shows he is indeed registered with the Democratic Party in California. His voter status there is listed as active.
In 2008 and 2016, Calabrese cast absentee ballots in Florida’s General Elections. Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections office records indicate he voted in person in the 2018 General Election.
Calabrese said he was recently told by staff from the Division of Elections that even though he hasn’t been registered as a Democrat in Florida for the requisite 365-day period, his registration with the party in California satisfies that requirement.
“I was told it’s a federal Democratic Party, not a state thing,” he said.
A representative from the Division of Elections told Florida Politics that staff members are not authorized to interpret election laws and deferred the question to the state Office of General Counsel.
Mark Herron, an election law attorney with Tallahassee-based firm Messer Caparello, said Florida’s election laws and the oath candidates must take before running — which includes language attesting that a candidate belonged to a party for at least a year prior to the qualifying period — leave little room for interpretation.
“Florida law is clear,” he said. “He wasn’t registered as a Democrat consistent with what he had to swear to under oath when he qualified. So, it’s crystal clear he shouldn’t be able to qualify as a Democrat for this election.”
What’s more, Calabrese may have broken the law if he cast ballots in both California and Florida, according to Stearns Weaver Miller attorney Glenn Burhans Jr., who specializes in election and political activity law.
“You can’t be validly registered to vote — and to vote — in two separate states,” he said. “That depends on where your residence is. So, if he was living in California on a temporary basis and that wasn’t where he intended on having as his residence, then he could vote in what is now called a mail-in ballot. But if his residence was truly in California and he was registered to vote there at the same time he was registered to — and voted — in Florida, that would be a violation of the law.”
Mallory Morgan, press secretary for the Florida Department of State, said that while her office oversees candidate oaths of party affiliation, the office is prohibited by law from determining the oath’s truth or accuracy.
“If an elector or opponent alleges it is false — that the candidate has not satisfied the requirement — then they can bring a court challenge and it would be up to the court to decide,” she said by email Monday.
This is not the first time a candidate has run into trouble for switching parties too late. In 2011, former Republican Sen. Nancy Argenziano unsuccessfully sued the state so that she could run as a Democrat. She was ultimately forced to run as a member of the Independent Party and lost to incumbent Republican Rep. Jimmie Todd Smith.
A similar thing happened in 2020, when Hillsborough County Sheriff candidate Ron McMullen tried to switch from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party past the deadline. The retired Tampa police major chose to stay in the race as a no-party candidate, taking third in the General Election with 9.3% of the vote.
Florida Politics has contacted Calabrese for further comment and will update this story once it’s received.
Calabrese, who cited the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as his reason for joining the military and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol as his reason for running for office, is one of seven candidates seeking the CD 22 seat this November.
Other candidates the Federal Election Commission lists as running in CD 22 include Republican Steven Chess, a retired chiropractor; Republican lawyer Jim Pruden; Democratic Broward County Commissioner Jared Moskowitz, a former state Representative and director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management; no party-affiliated candidate Mark Napier; Democratic Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor Ben Sorensen, an lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve; and Republican Darlene Swaffer, who runs a Medicare insurance brokerage firm in Deerfield Beach.