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The Villages
Saturday, June 11, 2022

Will the risk of prison deter fake candidates in the 2022 commissioner race?

Scott Fenstermaker

Two years ago, Villages-News.com, published an editorial worthy of a Pulitzer prize. It was entitled:  Fake Candidates Reveal Developer’s Desperation to Cheat Voters by Rigging Election.   https://www.villages-news.com/2020/06/13/fake-candidates-reveal-developers-desperation-to-cheat-voters-by-rigging-election/  The editorial exposed, in detail, the use of fake candidates Jerry Prince and Pete Wahl in an effort to keep the Developer’s puppet commissioners (who had just voted a 25 percent increase in our property taxes to protect the Developer’s sweetheart impact fee) in office. 

To understand the 2020 fake-candidate scheme, you need to understand:

  • the Florida Constitution regarding the right of everyone to vote in a primary where the winner will face no opposition in the general election, and
  • the Florida statute making it a felony to corruptly interfere with anyone’s right to vote.

The Florida Constitution Article VI, Section 5 provides: 

(b) If all candidates for an office have the same party affiliation and the winner will have no opposition in the general election, all qualified electors, regardless of party affiliation, may vote in the primary elections for that office.  {That kind of primary is called a “universal primary”.}

The relevant criminal-law provision is the following: 

104.061Corruptly influencing voting.—

(1)Whoever by bribery, menace, threat, OR OTHER CORRUPTION WHATSOEVER {emphasis added}, either directly or indirectly, attempts to influence, deceive, or deter any elector in voting or interferes with him or her in the free exercise of the elector’s right to vote at any election commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084 for the first conviction, and a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084, for any subsequent conviction.

Back in 2020, the winners of the Republican primary races for commissioner in Districts 1 and 5 were going to face no opposition in the general election, so those races should have been universal primary races.  However, as set forth in the Villages-News.com editorial, the Developer thought that his puppets (incumbents Burgess and Printz) would be easy victors if only Republicans voted in the primary, so he arranged his guys Wahl and Prince to register as last minute as write-in candidates. After registering, they turned around and supported Burgess and Printz. By the way, the whole fake-candidate scam was a colossal failure, and all three of the Developer’s incumbent puppets were tossed out, by rank-and-file Republicans, in a landslide.

But failure of the fake-candidate scam does not make it legal.  You don’t need a law degree to see that fielding fake candidates to disenfranchise voters would seem to be “other corruption whatsoever” and be a felony.  Marsha Shearer and Martin Van Luven thought so and filed criminal complaints with the Department of State.  The Department of State agreed, determined that the complaints were “facially sufficient” and that there was “reason to believe election fraud occurred.”.The Department of State then referred the matter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for criminal investigation.  The complaints then disappeared into the bowels of the Tallahassee bureaucracy.

Only recently, did Marsha and Martin find out what happened to the FDLE investigation.  It was killed, without explanation, by the same State Attorney’s office that brought perjury charges against reform Commissioners Miller and Search, following a complaint by attorney George Angeliadis on behalf of a deep-pocketed client whom Angeliadis has refused to identify.  (A coincidence?)  As a consequence, Marsha and Martin have now filed federal complaints with the U.S. Attorney’s office.  https://www.villages-news.com/2022/05/29/villagers-file-election-fraud-complaint-with-federal-prosecutor-after-lack-of-action-at-state-level/

Now the question becomes:  In light of the failure of the fake-candidacy scam in 2020, the fact that a state investigation will not be so easily buried this time around, and the pending federal investigation into the 2020 scheme, will the persons behind the 2020 fake candidacies be brazen (or foolish) enough to try it again in the 2022 races?  We will soon find out.

Scott Fenstermaker is a resident of The Villages.

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