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Was Election Official's Decision Not to Disqualify Two Candidates Influenced by State Senator?

FLORIDA – A Citrus County Commission candidate is fighting to stay on the ballot after a minor technicality prompted the Supervisor of Elections to disqualify him.

Republican Jesse Rumson filed in June of 2023 to run against incumbent Holly Davis, also a Republican, in the District 5 Primary.

On June 6th of this year, Rumson filed a Candidate Oath form but failed to check yes or no to the question whether he owed campaign finance violation fines. Supervisor of Elections Maureen "Mo" Baird told Florida Politics that the error was not discovered until a candidate unrelated to the race pointed it out after the June 14th qualifying deadline.

Baird contacted Rumson after the deadline and advised him of the error and that he was disqualified. Baird told Florida Politics, "I'm the holder of the forms. I'm not responsible for making sure those forms are filled out correctly." But according to Florida Statute, a Supervisor of Elections must notify a candidate immediately if errors are discovered so that the candidate can correct them before the qualification deadline.

Earlier this month a large crowd gathered outside the Citrus County Supervisor of Elections Office in support of Rumson and called for his reinstatement to the ballot.

Last month R News discovered that two Hernando County candidates had made errors on a DS-DE 9 form which designates a campaign treasurer. Sheriff Al Nienhuis and School Board Candidate Kayce Hawkins both submitted expired documents, which according to statute, would disqualify them from the race. (FULL STORY)

R News shared our discovery with Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson, but she took no action. In response she stated, "After extensive review of Florida Statutes, Florida Administrative Code, and relevant case law, I have made the following determination:" She goes on to explain, "Both the Form DS-DE 9 (Rev. 10/10) and Form DS-DE 9 (09/23) contain the same information for purposes of qualifying. The only item of information contained on Form DS-DE 9 (09/23) that is not on the Form DS-DE 9 (Rev.10/10) is the Voter ID number; however, as expressly stated on the form the Voter ID number is not required to be completed for qualifying purposes." She further states, "...any use of Form DS-DE 9 (Rev. 10/10) in lieu of Form DS-DE 9 (09/23) after November 13, 2023, would be a de minimis technical issue given that the information required for qualifying is the same on both forms." But Anderson may not have the authority to decide the fate of a candidate when errors are discovered after the June 14th qualifying deadline.

According to a Florida Supreme Court ruling: Once the deadline for filing has passed no further alterations or changes can be made in a candidate's qualification papers. This court has uniformly held that a candidate's qualification papers must be completed and filed within the time prescribed by statute, and that any errors or omissions cannot be corrected after the filing deadline has passed.

Battaglia v. Adams, 164 So. 2d. 195, 199 (Fla. 1964) reads: The court has squarely placed the responsibility upon the candidate to exercise due care in submitting his qualifying papers. That opinion is echoed in an August 31, 1982, Division of Elections Opinion that reads: "Thus, the qualifying officer ... has no authority to take any action on errors in qualifying papers after the qualifying period has ended. Any corrections or changes subsequent to the closing of the qualifying period must be made by appropriate challenge through a judicial forum.

Sheriff Nienhuis told R News, "In an abundance of caution, I will be filing a 9/23 version of the form later today or tomorrow." On June 17th, Nienhuis did file the current form. Hawkins did not respond to our request for comment and according to the Hernandovotes.com website, she has not updated the form to the correct edition.

Candidate for Sheriff Joe Puglia says he is consulting with an attorney to determine if his campaign will take legal action and that he had no further comment on the matter at this time.

Some say allowing election officers to have full discretion in deciding whether a candidate qualifies or not jeopardizes Florida's election integrity. What if a candidate is friends with an election officer? Are there quid pro quos?

In Hernando County, there are already allegations of corruption and nepotism involving Senator Blaise Ingoglia, and that he "appoints" candidates to fill seats in every election cycle. Ingoglia launched the political careers of now-State Representative Jeff Holcomb, and Commissioners John Allocco, Brian Hawkins, Beth Narverud, and Jerry Campbell, and even School Board candidate, presumably elect, Kayce Hawkins (Brian Hawkins' wife). Ingoglia is also a staunch supporter of Sheriff Nienhuis. But it's how closely Ingoglia is related to Shirley Anderson that raises concerns and speculation that Nienhuis, specifically, got a "get out of jail free" card when Anderson declined to pass the disqualification matter off to the courts.

Many aren't aware that Anderson has been dating Andrew Ingoglia, Blaise Ingoglia's father, the entire time she has held the office of Supervisor of Elections. With Blaise having close ties to all the incumbent candidates, it raises suspicion that Blaise may have influence over Anderson's decisions and interfered with the election.

It should also be known that Ingoglia sits on Florida's Ethics and Elections Committee, whose duties include in part, conducting investigations into allegations of unethical behavior by public officials and election irregularities. Essentially, Ingoglia would have direct influence on the matter presented before Anderson regarding Sheriff Nienhuis and Kayce Hawkins.

Neither Senator Ingoglia nor Shirley Anderson would respond to our request for comment on the potential conflict of interest.

 

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