Judge rules Ken Davenport can’t be removed from ballot by courts

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It's unlikely an appeal can reach a conclusion before the Tuesday GOP Primary.

A judge has ruled that Ken Davenport should remain on a Republican ballot in House District 35.

The chief reason? A state law requiring 365 days of party membership doesn’t actually allow the courts to toss him off the ballot.

Davenport faces Republicans Erika Booth and Scotty Moore in a Republican Primary on Tuesday in House District 35. The winner will advance to a Jan. 16 Special Election.

But shortly before the election, critics sued Davenport, saying he had not complied with a relatively new state law that says candidates must be registered members of a political party for 365 days prior to qualifying for a Primary.

Plaintiff Stephen Michael, represented by former state Rep. Anthony Sabatini as his attorney, alleged in a complaint Davenport had not been registered as a Republican for a full year before qualifying to run as a Republican in a Special Election.

Davenport said he’s been a Republican his entire life. But a voter file with the Orange County Supervisor of Elections shows the Orlando Republican briefly changed his voter registration on Sept. 9, 2022, to no party affiliation.

That was weeks after Davenport lost a Republican Primary in House District 35 to incumbent state Rep. Fred Hawkins on Aug. 23. He changed his registration back to Republican on Dec. 19, the voter file shows.

Hawkins later resigned his office to become the new Pesident of South Florida State College.

By Friday, it already appeared unlikely Davenport would be booted from the ballot before Tuesday’s vote. That was because hearings had to be delayed after all parties, including Davenport, were not properly served before a hearing earlier this week.

Sabatini said Davenport repeatedly ducked service.

But ultimately, Circuit Judge Chad Alvaro said prior case law was on Davenport’s side anyway. He pointed to precedent from last year in Florida’s 1st Congressional District.

There, a political opponent sued to have Democrat Rebekah Jones removed from a Primary ballot because she was not registered as a Democrat in Maryland for a two-month period in the prior year. Courts initially ruled Jones should be disqualified, but Jones appealed and a higher court ruled she should remain on the ballot.

Jones won the Democratic nomination but went on to lose to incumbent GOP U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Juan de la Torre, an attorney for Davenport, argued that set a precedent that should apply in the HD 35 race. He noted the law placing the partisan registration requirement does not have a remedy dictated in the courts. The Secretary of State’s office qualified Davenport as a candidate, so he should remain on the ballot.

But de la Torre also took issue with the requirement in the first place. While he would not speak to facts in the case, he said Davenport indeed has been a loyal Republican throughout his life.

“He’s been a Republican a majority of his life,” de la Torre said. “The affirmation of having an oath and making a big deal of loyalty to party before he is even sworn in, that speaks to a bigger narrative of putting party before country.”

Plaintiffs can appeal, but it’s unlikely the case could be fought and decided in appellate court before polls close on Tuesday.

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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