Lehigh Acres Democrat
Fights To Get On Ballot
Larry Aguilar is fighting for his chance at a state representative seat — and he isn’t even on the ballot.
The Lehigh Acres Democrat is challenging the state Division of Elections for keeping him off the ballot for District 79 that incumbent North Fort Myers state Rep. Matt Caldwell and challenger Matt Miller qualified for.
The debate revolves around interpretation of state guidelines about what, exactly constitutes possession of a candidate’s qualifying documents — their placement in a post office box, or placement in a Division employee’s hands.
Aguilar first tried to qualify to be on the ballot through petition but didn’t get enough certified signatures.
So last Tuesday, he used the U.S. Postal Service to mail a package containing a check for the qualifying fee of $1,781, a candidacy oath and a financial disclosure. It was in the Division’s post office box in Tallahassee on Friday morning, Aguilar said.
The qualifying period ended at noon Friday.
Pete Burkhert (Agullar’s mediator in the matter), Aguilar and Joshua Karp, communications director for the Florida Democratic Party, said a tracking number on Aguilar’s package confirmed the timeline.
But Aguilar said he was told the Division didn’t pick the package up until Monday, meaning he missed the qualifying period.
Aguilar contacted the Florida Democratic Party on Friday, which on Tuesday formally requested a review of his status through a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
“The record is clear that these papers were received by the Department of State prior to the close of qualifying period. … There was no lack of diligence on the part of Mr. Aguilar,” the letter, written by attorney Mark Herron on behalf of the Florida Democratic Party, states.
Florida law states a written communication is “deemed to be received if it is received to the addressee personally or if it is delivered to the addressee’s place of business, habitual residence, or mailing address.”
But that’s where things get muddy.
Burkhert and Herron both contend the Division’s post office box counts as its mailing address.
But two documents on the Division’s website — a May 12 memorandum announcing this year’s qualifying period and a 2014 “Guide to Qualifying” — seem to warn against this situation.
“Please note that the U.S. Postal Service does not deliver to our building when mail is sent using regular or overnight delivery; instead, the Division has mail clerks that periodically make collections from the post office. If time is of the essence, candidates may wish to use Federal Express or UPS as these packages are delivered directly to the Division of Elections,” the documents state.
In an emailed statement, Division of Elections spokeswoman Brittany Lesser said her office “works closely with potential candidates to ensure that they have the information they need in order to qualify in accordance of the law. We send each a memo outlining the proper way to fill out qualifying paperwork and the procedure to return the paperwork to the division in order to qualify by the deadline.”
She did not answer a question about the process the Division would undertake to review Aguilar’s claim, or if it would review it.
But if the division does decide to qualify him as a candidate, his entrance as a Democrat would change the District 79 election.
Because only members of one party are qualified, there will be an Aug. 26 open primary in which voters of all parties can vote. But if Aguilar qualifies, the primary will be closed to Republicans only, and the winner of the Caldwell-Miller race will face him on Nov. 4.