'Ridiculous' Petition Rules Snag Congressional Candidates in Florida

By: Kenric Ward | Posted: April 20, 2012 3:55 AM
Karen Harrington, John Mica, Tom Rooney and Daniel Webster

Karen Harrington, U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Orlando, U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, and U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Orlando

Several congressional candidates in Florida have been tripped up by arcane rules governing their qualifying petitions, Sunshine State News has learned.

In lieu of paying a $10,000 fee to get on the ballot, candidates can gather 2,298 signatures from registered voters to qualify for the upcoming elections.

Karen Harrington, seeking the Republican nomination to run against Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fort Lauderdale, started circulating petitions last year. The signatures were collected quickly, but then hit a snag.

Because Harrington's petitions bore the words "U.S. Congress" instead of "U.S. House of Representatives," state election officials said her paperwork could be subject to challenge and possible disqualification.

Not wanting to take any chances, Harrington spokesman Anthony Bustamante said the campaign changed the wording and recirculated the petitions.

"We finished it up quickly," Bustamante said.

Even incumbents have been snagged, and at least one will pay the price -- literally.

Rep. Tom Rooney's spokesman Michael Mahaffey related, "Unfortunately, due to a printing error, Congressman Rooney’s 6,000 signed petitions were not eligible.

"While he clearly has the support to qualify by petition, he will likely pay the qualifying fee," Mahaffey said of the Tequesta Republican.

Petitions for Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Orlando, also contained the offending "U.S. Congress" language and, thus, had to be revised and recirculated. A campaign spokeswoman said she expects the final batch of corrected petitions to be submitted shortly.

Rep. John Mica, R-Orlando, a 10-term congressman, had his petitions turned back this year because they included a signature line in Spanish.

"It's been accepted in the past, but not now, thanks to an April 9 administrative order barring the use of Spanish," said a Mica campaign spokesman.

"We were trying to help out the good voters of District 7. This is a disservice, but we're getting [the petitions] fixed."

A lengthy April 4 memo to supervisors of elections from Gary Holland, assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of State, detailed some of the changes affecting congressional campaign petitions.

"The candidate petition form requires 'the title of the office being sought' to be placed on the form. 'U.S. Congress' is not a title of an office," Holland wrote.

"Congress consists of two houses: The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Thus, by placing 'U.S. Congress' on the form, it does not specify an office."

Holland's directive goes on to advise local supervisors of elections:

"If you cannot reasonably determine which house of Congress to which the petition applies from the face of the petition, the petition will be invalid."

Holland does, however, grant latitude in regard to other verbiage, particularly in designating the specific number of a congressional district, since reapportionment maps have not been approved.

Because district lines remain unofficial, petition signatures can be gathered from anywhere in the state. And, conceivably, a candidate who declares in one district could switch to another after the boundaries are finalized.

Holland cites a series of hypothetical examples that would pass muster:
  • "Dist 8 Congressman -- valid for U.S. representative, District 8 (even though district numbers are not to be on this year’s petitions) -- it’s clear that “congressman” refers to the U.S. Congress and District 8 makes it a House of Representatives candidate since the U.S. Senate does not have districts.
  • "U.S. Congressman 8th District -- valid for same reason as above.
  • "Senator – valid only if the form specifies the office is either U.S. or state Senate.
  • "Congressman – valid since “congressman” typically refers to the U.S. representative and district numbers need not be present on forms this year.  
  • "Congressional Representative – valid for same reason immediately above
  • "Congressional Rep – valid for same reason immediately above, plus “Rep” is understood to be an abbreviation for representative.
  • "Congressman District 7 – valid for District 7, U.S. House for same reasons stated in first example above."
Because of unapproved use of the word "Congress," both state Reps. Paige Kreegel and Gary Aubuchon had to re-word and re-circulate their qualifying petitions in their bids to succeed Rep. Connie Mack, R-Naples.

"Unfortunately, the Florida Division of Elections in Tallahassee has decided, in their infinite wisdom, that voters may not understand what 'United States Congress' means, and that we now have to use the words “congressional representative” on the ballot petitions. That certainly clarifies things!" said Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda.

While both CD 19 candidates say they're on track for qualifying, political operatives share Kreegel's disdain for what they view as picayune bureaucratic games.

"I find it ridiculous that a petition with 'U.S. Congress' on it would be thrown out. It is clear the voter intends to place that individual on the ballot for U.S. House of Representatives," said Brian Graham, a Republican consultant whose clients include 6th Congressional District candidate Bev Slough.

In any event, all congressional candidates must submit the requisite signatures, or cash, by May 7 in order to qualify for the fall elections.

Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

Comments (11)

Peter Allen
2:13PM APR 24TH 2012
It would seen that these Republicans are getting a taste of what their Republican legislature is doing to all of Florida citizens by taking away our Freedoms and voting rights, they closed the Primaries so that we the People can pay for them and then deny us a right to vote in them, Please vote third party, ipfl.org
4:19PM APR 22ND 2012
Arcane rules?? It's "arcane" to require accurately stating the title of the office being sought??
The petition instructions clearly state what is the required info to be filled in. Do we really want someone running for office who can't follow simple instructions?
Ex: The instructions for filling out the 'candidate for the office of' blank are "(Insert title of office and include district, circuit, group, seat number, if applicable)"
Is that, somehow, not clear enough? Or are people so ignorant that they don't even know what to call the office they want us to elect them to? Do they really not know that "US Congress" includes BOTH houses?... REALLY??? Or is it just that they are so lazy as to be unwilling to type "U. S. House of Representatives, Florida, District XX"?
Come ON, people! get your act together.
3:04PM APR 20TH 2012
Tom Rooney was a constitutional attorney at West Point and his petitions were thrown out. Shows something about the decision if you ask me.
10:01AM APR 20TH 2012
It is wonderful to see a new law that affects only the lawmakers. This is what I would call a "JUST REWARD". They have been responsible for writing and voting in ambiguous law since the first day they became feeders at the taxpayers-funded trough.

Usually, it is the taxpayers who have to suffer from their laws. I enjoy seeing the lawmakers suffer at the direct consequence of new legislation. Now they feel the same pains we taxpayers have to face every day with all their nonsense legislation.
9:52AM APR 20TH 2012
In my opinion THERE SHOULD BE NO SPANISH WORDS on an American ballot. Period!! I am delighted that someone had this changed. Also, in my opinion, if you cannot read and speak English . .then you should not be voting in an American election. To become a citizen, it is required that you speak and read English.
Putnam Patriot
12:05AM APR 25TH 2012
Totally agree with you! No Spanish! 10-Term John Mica does not need an 11th term!
4:34PM APR 20TH 2012
This isn't about a ballot, it's about petitions to get your name on the ballot. Pretty sure all these R's are for English-only ballots.
9:51AM APR 20TH 2012
' "It's been accepted in the past, but not now, thanks to an April 9 administrative order barring the use of Spanish," said a Mica campaign spokesman.

"We were trying to help out the good voters of District 7. This is a disservice, but we're getting [the petitions] fixed." '

A rule pushed by the anti-immigrant lobby, which your party supports.
6:24AM APR 20TH 2012
They should know that Congress is comprised of two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives. So to run for Congress does not specify which house. Duh! Why is the rule "Ridiculous?"
9:49AM APR 20TH 2012
I totally agree with you. And if you are going to run for office, you certainly should know the rules.
Conservative Voice
7:09AM APR 20TH 2012
Here is why the rule is ridiculous. First, the government is telling you that you are too stupid to understand that the candidate is running for the House rather than the Senate. Second, when was the last time someone came up to you and said, Hi, I'm Mr. Smith and I am running for Congress." to which you explaimed, "Great I have never liked Bill Nelson!" Seriously? Confusion? Me think not.

Oh and to Tom Rooney's spokesman Michael Mahaffey. Seriously? You had six thousand cards signed, six thousand go through your hands and you are blaming the printer? You have to be kidding me! You would be well served following your boss in this respect, when he does something wrong he will admit he made a mistake. It was not a mistake his cards said U.S. Congress. I know, I signed one and I knew exactly which office he was seaking. U.S. SENATE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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