Miami-Dade’s primary election for state attorney will remain open to only Democrats, a federal judge ruled Wednesday — meaning the selection of the county’s top law enforcement officer will likely be decided by 525,890 voters.
U.S. Judge William Zloch issued his ruling Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by Republican and independent voters who said they were being disenfranchised by the presence of two “gimmick” write-in candidates in the general election.
The “write-in” candidates for Miami-Dade state attorney, lawyers Michele Samaroo and T. Omar Malone, won’t appear on any ballots this fall and voters who want to select them will need to write their names into a blank space.
But Zloch said because Samaroo and Malone qualified as “candidates” under state law, they should be counted as opposition.
“The court will not consult a crystal ball to determine when and whether a given write-in candidate constitutes ‘real’ or mere illusory opposition,” Zloch wrote, adding that “they could” win even if was generally unlikely.
“The court today will not declare that these candidacies are futile,” Zloch wrote.
Longtime incumbent Katherine Fernández Rundle is squaring off against fellow Democrat Rod Vereen. Under a 1998 voter-approved amendment to the Florida Constitution, the race would have been open to all 1.3 million Miami-Dade voters because no Republican or independent filed to run.
But at the last minute in April, Samaroo and Malone filed to run as write-in candidates, which served to close the primary, meaning that whoever wins it will de facto be the office holder.
A much-derided 2000 advisory opinion from the secretary of state said that just one write-in candidate was enough to close a primary.
No write-in candidate in Florida has ever come close to winning an election, and critics say such candidates are almost always run by political operatives seeking to limit the numbers of voters who can cast ballots. Vereen denies Fernández Rundle’s allegation that he pushed the write-in candidates to run.
“I had every bit of confidence that Judge Zloch would dismiss this frivolous lawsuit,” Vereen said Wednesday in a statement. “This charade has been a travesty for Democratic voters in Dade County. Kathy Rundle supported this lawsuit to deny Democrats the right to vote in a Democrat-only primary.”
The lawsuit, filed against the county and the secretary of state by voters Vincent Mazzilli and Armando Lacasa, asked a judge to open the August primary or move the race to the November general election ballot.
The lawsuit pointed out that while write-in candidates can “technically” win an election, they should not be considered opposition because they have no chance at prevailing against a balloted candidate.
“The fact that Santa Claus received 62 write-in votes for president in the 2008 election — and that Bill Clinton received 19 such votes, Mickey Mouse received 11 votes, and Michael Bloomberg received six votes — does not mean that Barack Obama and John McCain were actually ‘opposed’ by such candidates in any reasonable sense of that term,” the lawsuit says.
Neither Malone or Samaroo have campaigned, accepted a single donation or returned calls or e-mails from The Miami Herald.
Zloch determined that a federal court is not the right venue for such a lawsuit.