Kevin Gross is running for Seminole County Commission, but you won’t see his name on a ballot. He doesn’t have a campaign website, and it’s unlikely he will knock on doors looking for votes. Gross, a registered Republican from Longwood, is a write-in candidate. Yet despite his low profile, he could have a significant influence on the District 3 commission race Aug. 14. Because of a loophole in state law, his candidacy means that only registered Republicans — about 41 percent of the county’s 260,000 registered voters — will be able to vote in the race. If not for Gross, all registered voters in Seminole could vote in the Republican primary. Across Florida, Republicans and Democrats alike have used the write-in tactic to keep voters from other parties out of their primaries.
In the Seminole case, no Democrats are seeking the commission seat now held by Dick Van Der Weide. But opening the Republican primary to Democrats and independents would likely benefit candidate Lee Constantine. A longtime state legislator, Constantine could draw votes from non-Republicans because of his name recognition. Donald Epps and Kathleen Gallagher McIver are also seeking the seat. “I do wish this was changed,” Seminole Supervisor of Elections Michael Ertel said of the loophole. “What’s frustrating about this for a lot of people is that it just seems to be used as a tactic by one side. … And it causes people not to have much faith in the election process overall.”
According to state law, everyone can vote in a primary election when only one party fields candidates. The exception: If write-in candidates, such as Gross, enter the race, then the primary is open only to registered voters of that party, with the winner facing the write-in candidates in the general election. Supporters of the loophole say that the purpose of a primary should be to allow members of a party to select their best candidate for the general election. “This is an opportunity for everybody, all the parties, to go through their candidates,” said Epps, who also is an officer in the Republican Party of Seminole County. “It just happened to be that in this particular race, no Democrats signed up.”