Describing the potential for legal chaos and a “sore loser” from Tuesday’s Republican primary to seek to invalidate next Tuesday’s primary, Republican House District 44 candidate John Newstreet sought Thursday to intervene in a lawsuit that seeks to disqualify the only Democrat running, Paul Chandler.

Newstreet filed a motion with Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in Tallahassee Thursday seeking to be recognized as an intervener in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that alleges Chandler is not qualified to be a candidate and should be thrown off the ballot by the court.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Windermere lawyer Charles Hart, a Republican, alleges that Chandler voted in Missouri last year, making him a Missouri legal resident last year. Florida law requires Florida Legislature members to have been Florida residents for at least two years before taking office, so if Hart can convince a judge that Chandler was a Missouri resident last year, the judge could find Chandler ineligible to run in Florida this year, and invalidate his candidacy.

That could lead to the prospect that Tuesday’s Republican primary could be invalidated and thousands of votes already cast could be nullified, because Florida statutes and case law are unclear about what should be done if a closed party primary is held, and then there is no need for a general election where everyone can vote, Newstreet warned in his brief.

Newstreet faces Bobby Olszewski, Usha Jain, and Bruno Portigliatti in Tuesday’s special election Republican primary. All of them and Chandler hope to replace Republican former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle in representing southwest Orange County in the Florida House of Representatives. Eisnaugle quit in the spring to take a judicial appointment.

If Chandler is disqualified by the court because of Hart’s lawsuit, then Florida law could forbid the Orange County Democratic Party from replacing Chandler. If that happens, then there would be no need for a general election because the only candidate left standing would be the winner of the Republican primary, which is open to only Republican voters.

“Nonetheless, Intervenor harbors legitimate concerns that this action may ultimately serve, presumably inadvertently, as a vehicle by which a “sore loser” candidate in the House District 44 Republican special primary election may seek a “second bite at the apple” by attempting to retroactively invalidate the validly conducted primary election, replacing it with a universal primary while throwing out thousands of validly cast votes and disenfranchising thousands of Central Florida voters,” Newstreet suggested.

Chandler and the Orange County Democratic Party are seeking to make sure he stays on the ballot. Short of that, Orange County Democratic Chairman Wes Hodge said there is a prospect that Chandler could resign his candidacy, which should allow Hodge to pick a replacement candidate.

However, if the court rules Chandler ineligible to be a candidate, Florida law states that he cannot be replaced.

Newstreet’s brief, written and submitted by Winter Park attorney Wade Vose, makes several legal arguments against any efforts at that point that would seek to invalidate Tuesday’s Republican primary.

It also argues that “there is no cause ford the Court to take any action on this case prior to the conclusion of that election, and to do so could be highly prejudicial to the conduct of that election.”

The law forbidding replacement of a disqualified candidate was meant to be punitive to the candidate’s party, but it would in fact punish voters instead, it argues.

If the judge rules Chandler ineligible after Tuesday’s primary, there would never be a point in time in which there are multiple candidates from one party and no candidates from outside that party, the requirement for a universal primary election, it argues.

Florida law spells out four explicit reasons that a primary election can be invalidated, but the subsequent disqualification of the other party’s candidate is not among those reasons, it argues.

Case law warns that “courts must take care in post-election challenges to avoid disenfranchising voters without clear statutory warrant,” it argues.

Finally, it notes, “there is a general and compelling interest in maintaining the integrity of the electoral process and preventing voter confusion,” it argues.

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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