Write-in candidates will prevent Democrats from voting for sheriff, superintendent, tax collector

Last-minute filings could eliminate nearly 70,000 from participating in key primary races

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GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Chris Chambless paced the lobby of the Supervisor of Elections office last Friday, stopping every two or three steps to check the time on his cellphone.

As soon as it hit exactly noon, he put both hands in the air and let out an enthusiast sigh of relief.

“It’s official,” he said.

Candidates had until noon – and not one second later – to pay their qualifying fees to be part of the primary and general election ballots. Candidates who wanted to qualify by collecting 1,532 petition signatures for the offices of clerk of the county court, sheriff, tax collector, supervisor of elections and school superintendent had to be submitted before May 11. Others were required to pay at least $8,178 by Friday to be on the ballot.

For Chambless, the deadline means he won’t face any opposition to keep his job as supervisor of elections.

Minutes after the clock struck noon, Chambless was headed to the bank to return donations to his campaign.

Others who won’t face opposition during the election cycle include Tracy Scott Drake for property appraiser and county commissioner Mike Cella. All county circuit court judges – James Daniel, Lester Bass, Michael Kalil, Lance Day, Adrian Soud, David Gooding, Meredith Charbula, Tatiana Radi Salvador, Mike Sharrit, Virginia Norton and Waddell Wallace – all will be unopposed in the general election, as will State Attorney Melissa Nelson, Public Defender Charlie Cofer and Supreme Court Judge Carlos G. Muniz.

The deadline also ended a last-minute push by several candidates to be part of the primary on Aug. 18 or the general election on Nov. 3.

David Coughlin joined the clerk of county court race against incumbent Tara Green in the final few days before the cutoff, while Francis Bourrie (sheriff), Tom Platt (tax collector) and Tyler Groves (superintendent) all filed as write-ins. As a result, thousands of potential voters may be shut out from voting in the sheriff, tax collector and superintendent races because of the write-ins.

Florida requires Republicans to vote only on Republicans and Democrats only to vote on Democrats during the primaries. If one party doesn’t have a candidate for an office, all parties are allowed to vote for that office – which means the primary winner automatically will win the general election.

A write-in candidate, however, forces each party back to their party’s ballot. The loophole in the state’s election laws will keep Democrats from voting in those three offices during the primary, although all three write-ins are Republicans.

Chambless said registered Democrats will either be shut out of voting for a sheriff, tax collector or superintendent in the primary or they will have to switch to the Republican Party. There currently are 35,849 registered Democrats in Clay County and another 35,292 who haven’t listed a party, according to county’s elections office.

Many election officials believe write-ins are used to narrow the voting pool by eliminating an entire political party to favor a candidate of another party. According to financial records at the supervisor of elections office, Bourrie has contributed $1,000 to current candidate Harold Rutledge’s campaign.

Groves is a 22-year-old recent Political Science and Religion major from the University of Florida. He lives in Bradford County, but the address he gave when filing is a vacant lot, according to the Bradford County tax appraiser's office. Groves works at Publix and as a substitute teacher.

Platt, 77, lost a narrow election in 2004 for the District 1 seat on the Board of County Commissioners to Christy Fitzgerald.

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