SAO Election Lawsuit Denied, But Can Be Re-Filed
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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – U.S. District Judge William Zloch has denied a motion from two voters seeking to open up the election for Miami-Dade State Attorney in August due to a technicality in the original filing.
Judge Zloch said the plaintiffs, independent voter Vincent J. Mazzilli and Republican Armando Lacasa, didn’t include the proper parties to be able to carry the suit out.
But, Judge Zloch denied the motion without prejudice and said the lawsuit could be re-filed once the plaintiffs added the Secretary of State and the State Elections Canvassing Commission as defendants.
The case surrounded whether more than 700,000 voters will be allowed to vote in the race for the State Attorney’s office in Miami.
“It’s unfortunate that 700,000 votes, disenfranchised voters, may not be able to vote in the primaries,” Miami State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said.
Rundle has held the post since 1993 and was re-elected without opposition in 2008. She is running again against defense attorney Rod Vereen in the Democratic primary August 14th. It’s a race that would have been open to all voters because no Republicans or independents filed to run.
However, just before the April filing deadline, attorneys Omar Malone and Michele Samaroo filed to run as write-in candidates. Neither of their names will appear on the ballot.
In 1998, Florida voters overwhelmingly voted to change the state’s constitution, opening primary races to all voters if a candidate did not draw a challenger from the opposing party or independents in the general election.
But two years later, Harris issued an advisory opinion that decided that one single write-in candidate could close a primary.
Harris’ rule said the entry of Malone and Samaroo closed the race to just 525,890 Miami-Dade Democratic voters.
It essentially made the August 14th primary election a winner-take-all-race.
The decision also meant independent and Republican voters could not cast their ballot in an election which will decide the county’s top law enforcement officer.
“We want to be able to allow all registered voters in Miami-Dade County to vote in the only election that’s going to matter for state attorney,” said the plaintiffs attorney, Roberto Martinez.
Mazzilli and Lacasa suied the Miami-Dade elections supervisor saying the “gimmick” candidates have disenfranchised their voting rights for the key position.
Had no write-ins filed, Fernandez-Rundle and Vereen would have squared off in an open primary and she could have drawn support from Miami-Dade’s largely Hispanic Republicans and independents, from which she enjoys general support.
Joe Carollo, former Miami Mayor and Vereen supporters said the lawsuit was only brought after a poll a couple of weeks ago showed Rundle couldn’t win the Democratic primary.
“When she saw that she was going to lose the Democratic primary, she went to her Republican buddies and allies so they could present this desperate lawsuit,” said Carollo.
Rundle said she will await the court’s final ruling.
“Whatever the court rules; we will honor and move forward,” Rundle said.
Under Judge Zloch’s ruling, the Mazilli and Lacasa must have an amended lawsuit to include the Secretary of State and State Elections Canvassing Commission served by Tuesday, July 17.
By noon on Thursday, Judge Zloch said the Secretary of State and the State Elections Canvassing Commission will have to file their responses to the amended suit.
Then, by noon next Friday, the Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections shall file their response to the Secretary of State and State Elections Canvassing Commission pleading.
Finally, on July 23, oral arguments on the amended motion and injunction will be held in the U.S. Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale at 10 a.m.
(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report.)