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The Villages
Thursday, October 6, 2022

Last-minute write-in candidates will block voters from choosing commissioners

A pair of well-known Republican write-in candidates for the Sumter County Commission appear to have eliminated 45,000 voters from participating in the election contest.

Florida is a closed primary election state. Only voters who are registered members of political parties may vote for respective party candidates or nominees for an office in a primary election. A person can register with a party or change his or her party affiliation at any time but in order to vote for a party candidate in an upcoming primary election, the person must register with that party or change his or her party by the registration deadline for that primary election. (You can change your party affiliation at this link https://registertovoteflorida.gov/home.)

However, there are times when all registered voters can vote in a primary election. If all the candidates for an office have the same party affiliation and the winner of the primary election will not face any opposition in the general election (i.e. no write-in candidates have qualified), then all registered voters can vote for any of the candidates for that office in the primary election, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Pete Wahl
Jerry Prince

This week, as candidates are officially qualifying for the ballot, Villagers Pete Wahl and Jerry Prince quietly filed to run as write-in candidates in the general election for the Sumter County Commission.

Wahl, a former District manager in The Villages, on Monday filed to run in the District 3 contest in which incumbent Commissioner Don Burgess is being challenged by Villager Craig Estep in the Republican contest.

Prince, who heads The Villages Republican Club, the following day filed to run as a write-in in District 5, where incumbent Steve Printz is hoping to hang onto his county commission seat. Printz is facing GOP challenges from Villagers Oren Miller and Daniel Myslakowski.

The Sumter County Commission meeting on Sept. 10. in which the 25 percent tax increase was discussed attracted a large crowd at Savannah Center.

The sudden write-in candidacies mean that the county’s 24,867 Democrats and 20,487 No Party Affiliation and “other” voters will not see the county commission candidates’ names on their Aug. 18 ballots. The races will be determined by the 55,485 Republican voters in Sumter County.

The same is true in the race that pits incumbent Al Butler against Villagers Gary Search and Larry Green. That is because Green has filed as a No Party Affiliation candidate. His name will appear on the November ballot along with the name of the victor of the Butler-Search contest.

The write-in candidacies have dramatically altered the Aug. 18 election, by taking the balloting away from the Democratic and NPA voters.

The commission race has been a hot ticket as a result of a 25 percent tax increase that drew huge, angry crowds this past September at Savannah Center.

The trio of Republican incumbents are backed by the Developer of The Villages and the tax increase pushed through last year was seen as a sweetheart deal for the Morse family, as it pursues the expansion of Florida’s Friendliest Hometown south of State Road 44.

Burgess and Butler have each paid the $3,534 fee to be placed on the ballot, after their failure to collect the necessary number of voters’ signatures. Their opponents wrapped up the signature collection process earlier this year and did not need to pay the fee.

Prince earlier this year sent a desperate plea for voters – even Democrats – to sign petitions for the incumbents to get them on the ballot. 

Last week, Prince announced that the Republican Club had donated $15,000 to the re-election efforts of the commission incumbents.

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