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The Villages
Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Is use of fake candidates illegal?

Scott Fenstermaker

Is the use of fake candidates to interfere with the right of Democrats and independents to vote for County Commissioner in the Republican primary legal or illegal? Despite remarks to the contrary in a couple of recent letters to the editor, it would appear that, under Florida law, it is illegal. But, so far anyway, nobody has been arrested and convicted and I am not a Florida lawyer, so what do you think? Full disclosure: I am a Republican, but I don’t like crooked politics on the part of either party. Warning: The subject is complex, and thus this article is long.

WHAT IS GOING ON?

The Developer’s Drones. The Villages Developer wants control of the Sumter County Commission for two reasons. The first reason is to obtain all the zoning and other county approvals needed to continue the expansion of The Villages. The second reason is to maintain the sweetheart impact fee that results in the current residents, rather than the Developer, paying, for county infrastructure (roads, libraries, police and fire stations and vehicles, other government buildings and equipment, sewers, etc.) necessitated by The Villages massive expansion. To try to control the County Commission, the Developer, directly and through suppliers, has made huge campaign contributions to three candidates: Coon, Lazich, and Wiley. Coon, Lazich, and Wiley are hereinafter referred to “the Developer’s Drones”. (I use the term “Drone” because a drone is a mechanism with no conscience that is controlled by someone else. When a drone is weaponized or elected to public office, it can do great harm.) Since Sumter County is overwhelmingly Republican, the Developer’s Drones are running in the Republican Primary.

Florida’s Primary System. To understand the use of fake write-in candidates, one needs to understand that Florida is normally a closed-primary state, in which only party members can vote in that party’s primary. HOWEVER, if the winner of that primary will face no opposition candidate in the general election, the primary becomes what is called a “universal primary”, in which all voters can vote. Since the Democrats don’t field candidates for Sumter County Commission, the Republican County Commission primary races should be universal primaries (the winner of that primary being automatically elected). However, under applicable law, existense of a write-in candidate will keep a primary closed. But what if the write-in candidate is not a real candidate?

The 2024 Fake Candidates. First, there is no doubt that the 2024 write-in Sumter County Commission candidates Patricia Francis, Kevin Burke, and William Stantom, hereinafter referred to as the “Fake Candidates”, are real people, and not AI generated. But there is also no doubt that they are not real candidates. Samantha Scott (Sumter County Republican Party Chairman), in what can only be described as an incredibly stupid confession, admitted this in a recent letter to the editor published in villages-news.com. In that letter, Ms. Scott wrote that those write-in candidates had been put on the ballot, not to really run for office, but for the purpose of preventing Democrats and independents from voting in the Republican primary. https://www.villages-news.com/2024/06/14/grateful-to-write-in-candidates/

Why Try to Exclude Democrats and Independents from the Republican Primary? The Developer has tight control over the local Republican “in-crowd” through contributions to the Party and the activities of the Developer’s political fixer, Gary Lester. The Republican in-crowd will undoubtedly vote for the Developer Drones and, with the help of the Daily Sun, can probably convince many other Republicans to do the same. The Democrats and independents are considerably less likely to vote for the Developer’s Drones; thus the use of fake candidates to disenfranchise the Democrats and independents.

THE LEGALITY

Perjury By the Fake Candidates? To qualify as County Commission write-in candidates, each Fake Candidate had to sign a notarized form entitled Candidate Oath-State and Local Partisan Office-Write-In Candidate. In that form, the candidate swears or affirms “that I am a write-in candidate for the office of Sumter County Commissioner”. In this context, a “candidate” is someone running to be elected to office. Ms. Scott’s letter to the editor clearly states that the Fake Candidates are not really running for office, but are being put on the ballot to interfere with the right of Democrats and independents to vote in the Republican primary. If an investigation by state authorities corroborates Ms. Scott’s statement, it sure looks like the Fake Candidates lied under oath and are guilty of perjury. Also, Ms. Scott and the other conspirators involved in the Fake Candidate scam may be guilty of suborning perjury.

Corruptly Interfering With Voting? The applicable statute is: 

“Florida Statute 104.061 Corruptly influencing voting.—

(1) Whoever by bribery, menace, threat, or other corruption whatsoever, 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…[emphasis added]”

It would certainly appear that using fake candidates to interfere with the Democrats’ and independents’ right to vote in a universal Republican primary violates this statute, and Ms. Scott’s letter to the editor is a confession that that is exactly what was done.

The Unlikelihood of Prosecution. So, should Ms. Scott and the others involved in the Fake Candidate scam be lawyering up in anticipation of the cops knocking on their doors? They probably have nothing to worry about as long as Bill Gladson is the local state attorney. The question of legality is only to get resolved by an objective state investigation and prosecution But state attorney Gladson is the guy who deep sixed the investigation into the 2020 fake-candidate scam after the Department of State and FDLE found complaints by two Democrats, which cited Section 104.061 (1), valid. Gladson is also the guy who was eviscerated by the court of appeals for bringing a bogus perjury charge against Commissioner Oren Miller when Miller threatened the Developer’s sweetheart impact fee. Incidentally, Gladson has gotten thousands of dollars in 2024 campaign contributions from the Developer and the Developer’s suppliers although Gladson is running unopposed.

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT THE 2024 FAKE-CANDIDATE SCAM?

If you don’t like what is going on, you can do the following:

  • If you are a Republican, you can vote against corporate welfare and governmental corruption. You can do this by trying to keep the Developer’s Drones from being elected and voting for Republicans Miller, Estep, and Butterfield as County Commissioners in the August Republican primary and by contributing to their campaigns. Mark your calendars for August 10, when early voting begins.
  • If you are a Democrat or independent, you can frustrate the fake-candidate scam by switching to the Republican Party for the primary and switching back to Democrat or independent later. The switch to Republican should be completed by July 20. But if you do switch, understand that you won’t be able to vote in the Democratic primary.
  • If you are a Democrat, you can insist that your local party organization do what it should have done with respect to the 2020 fake-candidate scam. The Democratic Party, as a political party, should file an election-fraud complaint under Section 104.061 (1) and raise hell if Gladson again deep sixes the investigation and prosecution.
  • If you are a Democrat or independent, you can personally file an election fraud complaint, citing the above statute. The complaint form can be found at: https://dos.fl.gov/elections/contacts/elections-fraud-complaint If your state complaint gets buried in Florida bureaucracy, file a federal civil rights complaint: https://www.justice.gov/usao-mdfl (As I disclosed above, I am a Republican and, therefore, probably can’t effectively file a complaint myself since I am not being disenfranchised.)
  • If you want to have some fun, file an election-fraud complaint with the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office or the State Attorney’s Office and see what happens.
  • Contact your County Commissioner and (a) insist on an impact-fee increase, with a corresponding reduction in property taxes, and (b) insist on a thorough consideration of resulting congestion (both traffic and other), water depletion, and sink-hole creation before approving further expansion of The Villages.

CONCLUSION

I hate to be a pessimist, but in light of the financial resources and insider political power behind the Developer’s Drones and the lack of interest on the part of most Sumter County residents, the Developer’s Drones are PROBABLY going to be elected to the Sumter County Commission. But if you don’t think that this is a good thing, there are steps that you can take to try to stop that from happening and to try to clean up Sumter County government. Who knows how things will turn out if enough residents get more interested in good government than in good golf and decide to act?

Scott Fenstermaker is a resident of The Villages.

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