TALLAHASSEE — A Tallahassee judge has disqualified the write-in candidate in the Florida House District 64 race and ordered that the election between the two remaining candidates, both Republicans, be open to all voters.
Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey ruled Thursday in the lawsuit against write-in candidate Daniel John Matthews, finding that he didn’t live in the Tampa-area district when he qualified to run.
For now, her decision means all voters – regardless of party affiliation – will be able to vote for either incumbent state Rep. Jamie Grant or challenger Miriam Steinberg, a Tampa engineer.
Because the Aug. 26 primary election “is quickly approaching,” Dempsey delayed the vote — ordering it held on general election day Nov. 4.
Matthews couldn’t be reached Thursday, and his attorney declined comment beyond confirming that his client will appeal.
This latest order adds to the muddle of court decisions over what the law is regarding residency requirements for write-in candidates.
There are already two conflicting lower-court cases, both involving Broward County races. One, by a Tallahassee judge, says a House write-in candidate only has to live in the district at the time of election. Another was in line with Dempsey’s decision and involved a county commission race.
“I thought it was a very close case and any two reasonable judges could rule differently,” said the plaintiff in the Matthews’ case, Tampa attorney Michael Steinberg. “I couldn’t have faulted this judge for ruling the other way.”
His complaint was filed in the capital because it was against Secretary of State Ken Detzner, as well as Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer and Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deb Clark.
Steinberg is married to candidate Miriam Steinberg. He argued that Matthews lives in Tallahassee, where he attended Florida State University, not the greater Tampa area. The district takes in eastern Pinellas County and northwest Hillsborough County.
Having Matthews in the race as a write-in would have closed the primary to GOP-registered voters only. Without him, all voters could have cast a ballot because no other candidate was running from another party.
Steinberg believes Matthews was set up to run only to close the primary, but doesn’t know why or by whom. Grant has said he wasn’t involved, adding, “We’ll win this election in the community, not the courts.”
A joint news release from Latimer and Clark said no ballots already received for the Aug. 26 primary, now cancelled by Dempsey, would be counted.