Yesterday, July 21, 2014, Florida Attorney General candidate Bill Wohlsifer took to his campaign website blog to publicly shame the Collier County Supervisor of Elections (SOE) office. Jennifer Edwards is the Supervisor of Elections in Collier County. Recently the (SOE) held a mock election at a public Candidate Forum at the Golden Gate Community Center, which purposely excluded Wohlsifer's name, however included the three other candidates qualified to be in the race. Wohlsifer is the only Libertarian Party of Florida candidate in the race. The other three candidates in the race are two Democrats and one Republican.
Wohlsifer considered the omission by the government agency as engaging in "steering" which in real estate circles, means agents will illegally direct clients away from certain neighborhoods. As Wohlsifer states in his blog posting, "This was a law put into place by the Government in order to prevent wrongful discrimination based on a person’s beliefs, race, or creed. Why is it then that individuals and their bought-and-paid-for Government have the ability to steer voters toward certain candidates, while omitting other candidates who meet the same criteria?"
Wohlsifer makes a valid point, especially with a government agency such as the SOE, which most would believe should be impartial and fully inclusive of all candidates, political parties and political committees. To leave one or some off a ballot who is qualified and will show up on the printed ballot in the November general election, even in a mock election, would seem to most, wrong.
The SOE should have been impartial, yet Jennifer Edwards' office stated, “the organizers of the event choose who to put on the mock ballot.” However, the machines and tabulations were conducted by the SOE, which has a Constitutional duty to be impartial and thereby should not have acquiesced to the organizers of the event.
Wohlsifer goes on to say in his campaign blog post, "This is just a form of discrimination that opens the door of opportunity for a corporately funded straw poll to pick and choose any candidates to place on mock ballots, based on what they want the ballot to look like, and pay the Supervisor of Election to put out the ballot. Even the Office of Director, Division of Elections stated in an email that, 'There are no specific rules or statutes that govern these types of activities.' If they can leave off any qualified candidate what is to stop them to leaving off all candidates who weren’t the personal choice of the people who have essentially paid the Supervisor of Elections?"
It is clear the SOE, a constitutional office and government agency, did not "ensure the integrity of the electoral process" as per their official motto. Many people do not realize the power and impact a county SOE can have on political races. We saw that in Palm Beach County when the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections caused the famous "butterfly ballot" and the fight between George Bush and Al Gore in 2000. The SOE has one of the most important roles in government, and when it is tainted, it affects the future of the nation.
It is Wohlsifer's contention, and most others familiar with the case, the SOE should have told the organizers of the event that all candidates must be included in the mock election; otherwise, the SOE could not participate. Instead, the SOE chose to further the myth that voters have only two parties to choose from - the Democrat or the Republican.
Jo Vaccarino, a Wohlsifer supporter, made this statement concerning Wohlsifer's exclusion:
"I attended a Candidate Forum at the Golden Gate Community Center last Tuesday where the Supervisor of Elections set up a mock election. I, like most voters, naturally assumed that all candidates who qualified to be on our ballots in November would be on this mock ballot because it was run by the SOE using the same ballot format, voting booths and ballot reader they’ll use in November.
Imagine my surprise when I tried to vote for my favorite candidate and his name was missing from the ballot. In the race for Attorney General, there were only three candidates listed. But I know there is a fourth – my candidate, Bill Wohlsifer. I asked the Supervisor of Elections how they could exclude my candidate who met the same criteria and paid the same $7,738.32 fee to qualify to be on our ballots as the other three? The SOE told me: “The organizers of the event choose who to put on the mock ballot” as if I should be fine with that answer. I’m not. I never imagined that the government could be hired to handicap candidates.
Exclusion from polls, forums and media are exactly how the voters' impression of a candidate's viability is diminished. It starts locally and then by the time we get to the elections, no one will vote for the candidate who is perceived as "not viable" – even though the only tests of their viability were the things they were excluded from. I understand not opening the mock process to write in candidates, but all those who went through the ballot access process and paid the same fees should be given equal treatment, especially if public resources are used. A list of all candidates who qualified to be on the ballot is available from the Supervisor of Elections. In fact, I am surprised the Supervisor of Elections did not suggest that the organizers of this event give equal treatment to all who qualified under identical requirements.
Maybe it wasn’t done in a malicious way. Perhaps he was excluded out of neglect. But the exclusion of Bill Wohlsifer’s name in this public event which used public resources and looked “so official” has now diminished his viability in the voters’ minds. Nan Rich supporters should be livid too, as her name was excluded from the Gubernatorial race on these ballots. What is the sense of holding a candidate forum for the public to meet the candidates if you’re going to hide some of the candidates from them? Isn’t that steering? Real Estate agents aren’t even allowed to do that. How can it be legal for a government agency to participate in steering?"