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Ridiculous, unnecessary special election in HD 64 wraps up today

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

It’s too soon to say whether or not Jamie Grant will be re-elected to his House District 64 seat. But not really.

He will be elected and everyone knows this. Grant, who was first elected in 2010, is literally the only name on the ballot for the special election being held Tuesday.

Voters will head to the polls in parts of both Hillsborough and Pinellas to cast their ballots in Grant’s shoo-in bid.

Early voting in the election wrapped up over the weekend.

He’s already missed most of this year’s legislative session because of a legal challenge involving a write-in candidate.

That write-in candidate, whose name is really not important, didn’t live in District 64 at the time he filed. At that time, Grant had a Republican challenger.

If the race had been just between Miriam Steinberg and Grant, the two would have gone head to head in an open primary because there was no Democratic challenger. However, because there was a write-in candidate, it forced the primary to be closed – meaning Democrats, independents and any other party affiliations couldn’t vote. It also required a general election.

Steinberg’s husband filed a legal challenge based on the write-in candidate’s residence outside the district and won, thus forcing a new election.

Now Grant is back on the ballot and Steinberg isn’t. The write-in candidate is still in the mix, but hasn’t campaigned a shred.

The costly and seemingly unnecessary Special Election has shone a light on the problem with state election laws that allow situations like this to happen.

While the Legislature seems poised to address the residency issue and allow the residency requirement to take into consideration the candidate’s home address at the time of election, not at the time of filing, there isn’t any indication that further change is in store.

There’s no legislation to open primaries in situations where there is a write-in candidate. There also aren’t any efforts to make it more difficult to run as a write-in. Currently, those candidates are not required to pay a fee or collect petitions.

This allows supporters of candidates in races where it’s apparent only people in one party will be running to file paperwork, closing the primary to voters outside that party. This puts moderate candidates at a disadvantage to those who would be more likely to vote along party lines.

The idea is, the current laws are seen as a potential advantage to both parties.

The House District 64 election being held Tuesday is expected to cost between $300,000 and $400,000. For the past five months, more than 150,000 constituents have gone unrepresented in the Legislature and more than a month of that has been during the legislative session when lawmakers do the bulk of their work.

Nevertheless, there’s an election today and voters already know who the winner is long before any ballot is counted.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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