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Calling Their Tactic “Legal but Immoral,” Jim O’Connell Asks Flagler’s Write-Ins to Withdraw

| June 12, 2012

Jim O'Connell served on the Flagler County Commission from 2004 to 2008. (© FlaglerLive)

Four write-in candidates have qualified to run in four separate local election contests: the races for Flagler County sheriff, clerk of court, and two county commission seats. Unlike Republican, Democratic or Independent candidates, write-in candidates don’t have to turn in hundreds of petitions to qualify, or pay the thousands of dollars required to qualify absent petitions. Write-in candidates names will not appear on any ballot. Only a line appears in their chosen race, where voters may write in the name if they so choose. And write-ins may not run in primaries.

Yet even though they have no presence on the ballot, and no right to run in a primary election, write-ins can have a disproportionate influence on a primary by shutting out most voters from casting a ballot, as is the case in two races in Flagler County. Here’s how it works: when a primary race is contested exclusively by members of one party, that primary, by Florida law, is then open to all voters–Republicans, Democrats, Independents, minor parties–because the primary actually decides the winner regardless. Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1998 to ensure that such open primaries be held so that voters aren’t disenfranchised.

But when a write-in files to run in such a race, the primary is automatically “closed,” because that write-in will theoretically be contesting the race with the primary’s winner in the general election. Theoretically, because in many cases in Florida, write-in candidates drop out before the general election, their work already done: the write-in strategy is used specifically to close a primary and prevent voters from other parties, or independents, from voting. (For complete background on the strategy, see this story.)

That’s the case in two races in Flagler’s elections: the clerk of court race, and a county commission race. The clerk of court race is being contested by incumbent Gail Wadsworth and Ken Mazzie. Both are Republicans. The county commission District 1 race is being contested by incumbent Alan Peterson and Charlie Ericksen. Both are Republicans. Normally, in both those races, all registered voters would get to cast a ballot in the Aug. 14 primary. But in each race, a write-in candidate has filed to run: Daniel J. Bozza in the county commission race, Paulette Dunkel in the clerk of court race. (Two other write-ins in local races won’t materially affect the outcomes of those primaries because those races have both Democrats and Republicans running.) The write-in strategy appears to be the work of a little-known hard-right group with about 100 members called the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies of Florida, which is backing Ericksen and Wadsworth (both are members of the group). By locking out Democrats and Independents from those races, the group is ensuring that moderating votes that might be cast for Peterson or Mazzie aren’t cast.

Jim O’Connell, who served on the Flagler County Commission from 2004 to 2008, wrote the brief open letter below, asking write-in candidates to withdraw. While that window is closing fast, it’s still open: a Flagler County Supervisor of Elections official said the state has yet to certify the names for the election. It has until Friday to do so, but may do so before then, giving any candidate (including write-ins) a chance to withdraw (in writing and in person at the supervisor of elections office).

I am disappointed. Your tactic to use the current Florida law that allows a write-in candidate, for the purpose of closing the primary election to one party voters only, is a wrong tactic. To my knowledge it has never been utilized against any candidate of any party in Flagler County. When it was used in the replacement of Florida Senator Tony Hill I was disappointed.

I suspect you know you have little or no possibility of being elected to the local office. By using this legal, but immoral, tactic you are deliberately disenfranchising of 40,000 Flagler County voters who are registered as Democrats, Independents, or some other minor political party.

While your actions may be legal, they are not ethical or fair. By your wholesale departure from the standard of doing what is right, 40,000 Flagler voters will be denied their right to vote.

I respectfully ask that you reconsider your motives and withdraw from the race.

Jim O’Connell, Former Chairman,
Flagler County Board of County Commissioners

Jim O’Connell can be reached by email here.

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57 Responses for “Calling Their Tactic “Legal but Immoral,” Jim O’Connell Asks Flagler’s Write-Ins to Withdraw”

  1. Donna Heiss says:

    @ Linda H. Thank you for asking these important questions.

    Question 1. The 40,000 figure comes from the combination of independents and democrats that would have had the right to vote in these deciding elections should they have chosen to. Certainly many simply don’t care, but the fact of the matter remains their right was taken away by WRI’s who have only one goal and that was to close the primary. As I have stated before, these WRI’s have one thing in common. They are either officers or members of The Ronald Reagan Republican Club. Ironic, don’t ya think?

    Question 2. My husband Ken Mazzie, running against Gail W. does all his campaigning. I’m surprised you didn’t know that.

    Question 3. Yes, it is true Ken ran against Gail as a democrat 4 years ago. He is not a politician and hoped the truth (Auditor Generals Report from The State of Florida) would have been published before the general election. It was due for release in Oct. 2008. As you know, it was not published until April 2009. 5 months after the election. Please feel free to check Ken’s voting status(as I am sure you already have) both in NJ and here. He was a republican since the age of 21. He switched to run against Gail in the general election in 2008 to give the Auditor General more time for the truth to be told. The report is now out and the facts are the facts. Gail was a democrat before her run in 2000 for the Clerks position. I imagine you must know that also.

    @ Palmcoaster. You are welcome. If I can be of further assistance, please feel free to ask.


  2. Maryjoe says:

    @ Donna and Tulip…the only reason ANYTHING can be a final decision on Primary night is because there is no one else running from an opposite party. So…if there is no independent that felt they were worthy of the job or no, let’s say for arguments sake Democrat that their party thought was worthy of the job then your party isn’t doing IT’S job and a Republican (which would be decided by registered party voters as to who they feel is the better person for the job) would get in office.
    I don’t understand why anyone is whining. If you want to be voting in primaries and you want things to go to the general election, which in my opinion is the best alternative especially now that our elections will be held when national voting is held and that encourages more of the population here to go to the polls, then make sure you are affiliated with a party and your party puts up a candidate or if you aren’t affiliated with a party, run. And then everyone gets to vote. :) And if you belong to a party that doesn’t put up a candidate or there isn’t an independent that feels they can do a better job…you’ve disenfranchised yourselves…. get involved, get your party involved, participate. Then you don’t have to worry about write ins, although some of them may actually be very viable candidates. If you don’t, then it gets decided for you…and that puts the responsibility right where it belongs.


  3. Will says:

    To repeat an earlier observation in this or other related threads…

    It’s time to make all county elections NON PARTISAN.

    Enough of this bickering among factions of the local parties.

    Not many people can discern much of a philosophical party difference among good candidates locally, whether they’re technically registered as R’s or D’s. Good government, prudence with tax dollars, responsiveness to constituents – those are just common sense.

    Sure, this won’t happen until a local charter government passes – but it’s still a good goal.

    Whether the sheriff or the tax collector or the property assessor is an R or a D doesn’t matter a damn to me!


    • Think first, act second says:

      Maryjoe and Will
      In my opinion you have both hit on the crux of this situation.
      Maryjoe, independents do not vote in a primary generally, they go to the general election. They are only authorized to vote in races where only 1 party has candidates, but with a write in there are more than 1 party with candidates, yes write ins close the primary to party candidates only, independents or NPA cause the race to go to the general election after the party candidate is chosen, aka McDonald/Meeker/Romaine.
      Will, I agree charter government, NPA candidates, such as judges are, are the best option, but you will never get the BOCC to establish one with the current members, they fear for their jobs.
      Ms. Heiss, I have a question about your husbands campaign. He states on his website you directed us to this am to read the auditors report, that “It is time to clean up the mess.” My question is what mess, and how would he clean up this supposed mess?


  4. Donna Heiss says:

    @ Think first. My husband would be more than happy to speak with you regarding the position he is running for and explain first hand how he would accomplish this. He is the CPA, I am not.

    You may contact him through e-mail, or through his web-site. If you prefer to speak with him in person or on the phone, he will accommodate your request.

    Thank you very much for your interest.


  5. Anonymous says:

    @WILL Whether a candidate is a Dem or Rep doesn’t matter to me either. What does matter to me is that many many voters have had their voting privilege taken away by a small group of radicals in order to favor their candidates who belong to this radical club, and no matter what spin they put on it—that’s what they have done and hopefully people will realize this.


  6. BW says:

    The problem in my opinion is the law. Granted, political groups should act in a responsible manner. It’s kind of tough for a any one group to say they are “all for protecting freedom” and then use a loop-hole in the law to block out voters because they feel only one party should be able to vote for their party-affiliated candidates. But the bottom line is that the loop-hole exists and for no good reason. It’s happened twice now to confuse voters and was a contributor to the low turnout for the Mayor election this past year. Since groups are exploiting this loop-hole using write-ins, there definitely should be an effort to lobby the State Government to close that. Likewise, the Democrat presence on the local ballot is almost non-existent and that’s sad. The is tactic can’t be used is both parties are represented on the ballot. The playing field is pretty level with registered democrats and republicans, so the question for me is where are the democrat candidates?


  7. palmcoaster says:

    The political environment is so virulent since 2010, given the extreme conservationist, that maybe some Democrats may wonder if they will expose themselves, families and other innocents, to an attack like the one on Gaby Giffords in Tucson AZ. Or maybe to have their USA nationality in doubt,in a state with a “stand your ground law”?


  8. tulip says:

    The Democratic club here in PC is almost non-existent and the Ronald Reagan Club will probably cause what’s left of the Rep party to die, because everything is so fragmented now and people are just fed up in both parties. The Independent voter count is consistently growing in numbers, but meanwhile the Radical RR club and it’s candidates Ericksen, McDonald and incumbent Wadsworth are trying to take over running Flagler County. People need to pay attention to what’s going on before it’s too late and, after the election are crying “gee, we didn’t know.”


    • Linda H. says:

      Radical, Tulip? The RRRAFL has no candidates in these races. Are some of the candidates members? Yes, just as some are members of the local Republican Clubs. That hardly makes them radical.

      Is there the slightest possibly some incumbents may be defeated? I certainly hope so. Palm Coast has not benefitted from elected officials who sat in office more than a couple of terms.

      In the meantime, how about starting your own clubs instead of complaining about a group of citizens to decided to try and become more actively involved in their local government.


  9. Dorothea says:


    Tulip said, “People need to pay attention to what’s going on before it’s too late and, after the election are crying “gee, we didn’t know.” ”

    You sure have that right. Not only will they SAY that, the same people will whine and bitch on FlaglerLive after the elections are over and the radical rightie candidates have taken over Flagler County.


  10. Jim N says:

    If the RRRAFL has no one in the races as you state Linda, then who do these Write in Candidates represent? I was under the impression that the RRRAFL specifically encouraged these citizens to in fact register as write in candidates, knowing full well that by doing so it would close the primaries to only voters registered as like political parties.

    To me it becomes even more apparent because there isn’t one bit of information from any of the write in’s that I have seen which even discusses their ideas, platforms, or anything that would encourage anyone to actually vote for them.

    The idea of having a write in candidate, I felt was to ensure that if someone really wanted to hold an office they could do so without belonging to a political party, however because of the same law now and the RRRAFL disgraceful sham in having write in’s who don’t even try to get elected, it is obvious to me that they have in fact legally pulled a fast one. The end result is that likely there will be a change in the law or proposed changes and ultimately more rules will be put in place making it even harder for someone to run for office who does not have a money war chest to try and get elected.

    I think the RRRAFL should feel ashamed of themselves. Just because you can legally do something, does not mean it is the right thing to do.


    • Linda H. says:

      Jim, this question has been answered over and over again, so I will say it again. The RRR did not field these write in candidates. You will have to ask the candidates. The News Journal had an interview with one of the candidates, I believe.


  11. tulip says:

    @JIM N Very well said, and very true. It’s good to see that people can see through the RR “spin” on this issue.


  12. Donna Heiss says:

    @Linda H. All the WRI’s are either officers or member of the Ronald Reagan Republican Club.

    Lets take for example the Clerk of Court race. Mazzie/ Wadsworth with a WRI of 3rd Vice President of the Ronald Reagan Republican Club Pauline Dunkel. When Mrs. Dunkel was asked by a local paper, “what prompted her to run?” This is what she said and I quote, ” I don’t know, she said. ” I just decided to run”. I don’t buy that for half a second. Who says that? I’ll tell you, someone who was told to close the primary. She has to do nothing, her job is already done. Wadsworth will get the endorsement of the Ronald Reagan Republican club, because Mazzie wishes nothing to do with a club that denied 40,000 voters their right. A public servant is there to do just that. Serve the public. ALL OF THE PUBLIC, regardless of party affiliation.

    I don’t know how anyone can condone how this “club” is operating.


  13. Joe A. says:

    @ Jim N – well said sir.

    @ Linda H -Linda:

    In a previous thread you stated:
    :Linda H. says:
    May 22, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Joe A., President Ronald Reagan was a strong fiscal conservative who did not support or campaign for Democrat candidates once he changed his party affiliation. He was also a strong believer in the laws of this land. I knew his staff quite well and worked for his former general council in Washington. :

    Flip flopping on the facts? Now your saying you never worked for them.

    Let me post a hypothetical situation to you. All the candidates running are also members of the Elks Lodge, does that mean the Elks Lodge is supporting the candidates? NO

    Your write in candidates are all officers or in 1 case, the spouse of one of your Vice Presidents. Your group has exploited the law for your own personal and political gain. No matter how you attempt to justify it. The RRAFL is WRONG


    • Linda H. says:

      Joe A. I imagine the real problem here is that many in the RRRAFL will not support your candidate. You could have used the logic that this candidate is being supported by the members of the IAC and that would have been more correct.

      Nobody is trying to justify anything here. I said you would need to talk to the candidates. You sir are assisting one candidate of your own, is that not correct?

      I said I worked WITH.


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