Primary in Senate District 17 won't be opened to all voters, despite Democrat dropping out

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The state Senate District 17 race, in which a Democratic candidate dropped out last week, will be decided by the Tuesday primary election open only to registered Republican voters, Florida Department of State officials announced Thursday.

Three Republican candidates — John Korsak, John Legg and Rob Wallace — are seeking the Republican nomination for the Senate seat, which is being vacated by Sen. Jim Norman.

Democrat Wes Johnson filed and qualified to run but dropped out last week, leaving it up to the Democratic Party to find a replacement. Party officials couldn’t find one as of the deadline Thursday.

nitially, there were reports from both Democrats and Republicans that the Department of State was considering moving the race to the general election ballot, so Democrats, minor party and no-party voters could choose the three candidates along with Republicans.

But the department announced Thursday that won’t happen, and the Tuesday primary will stand.

Incoming state Senate President Don Gaetz, who’s in charge of Republican state Senate campaigns, praised the decision, but elections law expert Mark Herron, who works with the state Democratic Party, called it “an invitation to sue.”

Florida primaries are normally “closed” — only voters registered in the party are allowed to vote. But if only one party fields candidates for a legislative seat, meaning their primary would decide the election, then voters of other parties and no-party voters are allowed to vote.

The State Department’s announcement said the law doesn’t specifically address a situation in which a candidate leaves the ballot and isn’t replaced.

“Many ballots have already been cast in this contest through absentee and early voting,” the State Department’s announcement said. The law “does not require or authorize these validly-cast votes to be disregarded.”

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.