Michele Samaroo and T. Omar Malone, write-in candidates for Miami-Dade State Attorney, won’t appear on any ballots, don’t have campaign websites and refuse to take phone calls from the press.
But their presence is nonetheless amping up the campaign rhetoric and political intrigue between incumbent Katherine Fernández Rundle and her challenger, fellow Democrat Rod Vereen.
On one side, Fernández Rundle accuses Vereen’s campaign of running the write-in candidates — their last-minute entry closed the primary election, creating an Aug. 14 defacto winner-take-all race to be decided by up to just 525,890 registered Democrats. She calls it a “sneak attack designed to exclude more than 700,000 voters.”
On the other side, Vereen denies he is behind the write-ins and blasts Fernández Rundle because her campaign website urges Republican and independent voters to switch to the Democratic party to vote for her.
He recently filed a complaint with Miami-Dade’s Democratic Party saying Fernández Rundle violated her “loyalty oath” to the party.
“In essence, she’s being a wolf in sheep’s clothing and the Democratic party should not stand by and allow one of its own to do that,” Vereen said. “That’s the purpose of taking the loyalty oath.”
The Democrats closed its internal investigation into the complaint last week after an internal committee found no “actionable violation of the loyalty oath,” according to party chairman Richard Lydecker.
The political kerfuffle nevertheless underscores the controversial rule that govern state write-in candidates, who have beguiled both Republicans and Democrats in the past decade.
In 1998, Florida voters overwhelmingly voted to change the state’s constitution, opening primary races to all voters if a candidate did not draw a challenger from the opposing party or independents in the general election. The idea was to make sure all voters could participate in choosing their elected officials.
But in 2000, the state’s elections division issued an advisory opinion that decided that one single write-in candidate — they don’t pay filing fees or appear on the actual ballot — could close a primary.
Since then, write-in candidates for both parties have sparked controversy in scores of partisan races.
While some are serious about campaigning, political observers insist most of the candidates have other motives.
In some cases, a closed primary allows candidates to keep campaigning and fund-raising, even though their opponent is essentially a phantom. In other cases, observers say, the write-ins serve to limit the number of people who can vote.
Former State Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, who unsuccessfully sponsored numerous bills trying to close the law’s loophole, said politicians are loathe to change the rule because both sides use it.
“Along with gerrymandering, it is the most commonly used form of political manipulation,” said Aronberg, who is running against a balloted Republican and an independent for Palm Beach State Attorney. “The voters’ will is undermined when a write-in candidate disenfranchises voters.”
Aronberg’s county boasts a noteworthy recent case: a Port of Palm Beach Commissioner had her daughter and mother filed as write-in candidates — in case only another Democrat entered the race. Ultimately, the commissioner was reelected without opposition.