In his secretive and impossible bid for public office, James Bailey will accomplish only this: He will deprive thousands of residents from voting for their state legislator. Bailey, 28, is a write-in candidate for a state House seat in Vero Beach, a three-hour drive from his home in Clearwater. He’s not campaigning or raising money. He faces possible fines for refusing to file routine campaign paperwork. He won’t answer phone calls and e-mails. Yet his sham candidacy is manipulating the outcome of a race involving four Republicans. Because only one party fielded candidates, the primary should serve as a general election where all voters, not just Republicans, cast ballots. Such a “universal” primary is the intent behind a 1998 constitutional amendment passed by Florida voters to open up one-party contests to the entire electorate.
But this year, Bailey and 34 other people have filed as write-in legislative candidates across Florida, exploiting a notorious loophole that nullifies the amendment’s purpose. Even though write-in candidates have never won an election, state courts regard them as legitimate candidates. In races like House District 54, that means Bailey’s candidacy shuts out independent and Democrat voters in the primary.
Write-ins are blocking full voter participation in six Senate districts and 14 House districts on the Aug. 30 primary ballot, disenfranchising 1.6 million voters. Shrinking the voter pool allows candidates to tailor messages to the extremes: the most conservative or most liberal voters in their party. The result could mean more lawmakers at the far ends of the political spectrum.
Election officials are fed up with the practice and the refusal of both parties or the Legislature to fix it.