Write-in candidate files emergency motion in HD 64 decision

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Whether House District 64’s GOP primary will take place Aug. 26 remains uncertain, as an emergency appeal hearing scheduled for Monday could decide the case of a write-in candidate deemed ineligible for the ballot.

Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey ruled on Thursday that Donald John Matthews could not be a write-in candidate for HD 64, where the GOP primary between incumbent Rep. James Grant and Miriam Steinberg is just over three weeks away.

Dempsey ruled that Matthews was ineligible to run for that office since he did not live in the area at the time of qualifying. As a result, the formerly closed GOP primary moves to November and open to all voters in the district.

Tia Mitchell of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Matthews’ attorney filed an emergency motion, requesting a stay of the judge’s order. That means the primary between Grant and Steinberg could continue in August, closed to everyone but registered Republican voters.

Monday’s hearing could also influence how Pinellas and Hillsborough elections supervisors handle more than 140,000 ballots already printed.

District 64 covers parts of PInellas and Hillsborough County.

For now, the First District Court of Appeal will decide if it will take up the Matthews case, remand it to the Circuit Court send it to the Florida Supreme Court.

Michael Steinberg, Miriam’s husband, filed the initial suit against Matthews, claiming he was not qualified to be a write-in candidate in HD 64. Steinberg said issue before the courts is whether Florida law requires write-in candidates to live in the district where they are running at the time of qualifying. Dempsey believed it was, as did a Broward County judge in a similar ruling in the case of a write-in candidate running for the Broward County Commission.

However, Mitchell writes that another Leon County Circuit judge did not agree. Last week, Judge George Reynolds ruled write-in candidates must live in the district only upon election, the same standard outlined in the state Constitution for all political candidates.

Reynolds allowed a Broward County House District 96 candidate to remain in contention, effectively ensuring only registered Democrats decide the race between two Democrats.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.