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Jacks irks Vana with recruiting of write-in in property appraiser race

Mothers opposing daughters. Fathers running against sons. Friends as political rivals.

The oddities of Florida’s write-in candidate rules were on display again last week as a variety of write-ins popped up shortly before Friday’s candidate qualifying deadline. It’s been going on since 2000, but Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana cried foul when her rival in the race for property appraiser, Dorothy Jacks, effectively changed the date of their election by recruiting a write-in candidate.

In nonpartisan races for appraiser, elections supervisor and sheriff, the Palm Beach County Charter states that when more than two candidates are running, the election shall coincide with the primary election, which this year is Aug. 30. If no candidate gets a majority in that election, the top two finishers run in the November general election.

Until last week, Jacks and Vana were the only candidates for appraiser, which would put them on the November ballot. But on Wednesday, Charles H. Stahman qualified to run for appraiser as a write-in candidate. Though his name won’t appear on the ballot, Stahman is the third candidate in the race and therefore moves the election date to Aug. 30.

Stahman is a longtime friend of Property Appraiser Gary Nikolits, who is retiring and has endorsed his veteran deputy Jacks to succeed him. (Appraiser trivia buffs undoubtedly recall that Nikolits recruited Stahman as a write-in candidate in 2012.) Nikolits said he suggested to Jacks that Stahman be drafted again this year.

“The advantage of doing it in this case is to get it (the election) over with earlier,” said Nikolits, who said the Aug. 30 date leaves more transition time for his replacement.

Nikolits and Jacks drove to the elections office together after an Economic Council lunch. Jacks said she was filing an amended financial disclosure report. Nikolits brought Stahman’s paperwork. Vana bumped into them when she came to the elections office to file her own qualifying papers.

When Vana learned that the pair had dropped off the write-in candidate’s papers, she said she found it “very sketchy.”

In fact, Vana’s campaign had attorney Neil Schiller put in a public records request for videotape from the elections office showing Nikolits and Jacks at the counter submitting their paperwork.

“How do you file papers for someone to run against you? Really?…They’re trying to manipulate an election,” Vana said.

Because the appraiser’s race is nonpartisan, it’s open to any voter regardless of the date. But turnout for the primary date is historically lower than it is for the general election. Both Vana and Jacks said they don’t see a particular political advantage to one date or the other.

“The same people can vote. It doesn’t make any difference,” said Jacks. Asked why she preferred August, Jacks said: “It’s sooner. It’s hard to believe, but campaigning is really tough work and it’s tough work when you’re also working. It’s more expedient.”

Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, facing a challenge from Christine Spain, also drafted a friend — Philip Donovan — to be a write-in candidate and force an Aug. 30 election in their nonpartisan race. With the presidential election on Nov. 8, Bucher said she wants to run in August “so I can come back to work and get my work done.”

In partisan races, friendly write-in candidates are commonly used to counter the state’s “universal primary” law, which took effect in 2000. When all the candidates for a seat are from one party and the primary would decide the winner, state law says all voters can vote in the primary. But a write-in candidate is considered nonpartisan and automatically runs in the general election. So adding a write-in to a race in which all the candidates are from one party closes the primary. Republican and Democratic partisans routinely recruit write-ins to prevent voters from the other party from participating.

This year, Democratic Port of Palm Beach candidate Joseph Anderson recruited his father, also named Joseph Anderson, as a write-in. That assures that only Democrats will vote in the four-candidate Group 2 race. No Republicans filed for the seat.

The queen of the familial write-in is Democratic Port Commissioner Jean Enright, who has recruited her mother, Ruby Landfair, three times to run as a write-in in her races. Landfair filed again this year, but the maneuver was negated when no-party candidate Sonny Maken also filed, guaranteeing a November election in which all voters can cast ballots.

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