Democratic Florida Senate candidate was a Republican until last week

Former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruce Kaplan, pictured on the dais in 1996.
Former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruce Kaplan, pictured on the dais in 1996. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Last Thursday, Bruce Kaplan switched his political party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. On Friday, he qualified to run for the Florida Senate.

The problem? Florida law requires candidates to switch parties a year before the start of qualifying.

Kaplan was 368 days too late.

Records from the Miami-Dade elections department show Kaplan, 56, was a Republican until June 23, 2016. According to state law, he would’ve had to be a Democrat since June 20, 2015.

“My understanding is that you cannot change from one party for another within that one year period prior to qualifying and still be eligible to run,” Democratic state Rep. Joe Geller, a private elections lawyer, said.

Kaplan, a former Miami-Dade County commissioner, is one of seven Democrats who qualified in District 38, which was newly redrawn to include North Miami and Miami Beach.

He may not be a candidate for much longer, at least as a Democrat.

Kaplan signed a candidate oath last week that reads, “I have not been a registered member of any other political party for 365 days before the beginning of qualifying preceding the general election for which I seek to qualify.”

He did not respond to several requests for comment for this story. “I’m tied up in meetings all day,” Kaplan said.

Longtime Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis recently dropped out of the race for the Senate seat Kaplan is seeking after referring to her primary opponents as “three Haitians, some teacher and some lawyer.” Kaplan was not a candidate when Margolis made her comments.

Kaplan, a Miami lawyer, has not held elected office since resigning as county commissioner in 1998, after pleading no contest to charges of falsifying his financial disclosure forms in 1993 and 1994. Kaplan avoided jail time after agreeing to pay a fine and forfeit his right to run for commission in a special election. Kaplan’s wife, Janitza Kaplan, ran in the special election to replace her husband in 1998 but lost with 26 percent of the vote.

The Florida Division of Elections does not determine whether a candidate is in violation of their election oath before filing to run for office.

“The filing officer performs a ministerial function in reviewing qualifying papers,” spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice said. “The filing officer may not determine whether the contents of the qualifying papers are accurate.”

Geller, the former chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, remembers that the party once had to pull a candidate from the ballot because they switched parties six months before the qualifying period. Kaplan switched one day before the qualifying deadline.

“It’s not just being a Republican,” Geller said. “If you are registered as a Libertarian or with another party, you are not eligible to run as a Democrat.”

Candidates who are not registered to vote or are registered without party affiliation are eligible to run in a party’s primary if they join before the qualifying deadline.

Kaplan’s eligibility can only be challenged by a concerned citizen or voter filing an official complaint with the Florida Division of Elections to initiate an investigation.