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‘Ghost candidate’ set to spoil county commission election

Written by on Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Nearly half the voters in Sarasota’s District 1 may end up having no say in who represents them.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: June 12, 2024

Host: In District 1 of the Sarasota County Commission race, a young woman has filed a write-in candidacy, and that shuts out all non-Republican voters from a primary election that will in all likelihood produce the next Sarasota County Commissioner representing District 1. That is, unless a last-minute independent or Democratic candidate files by Friday noon, the end of the qualifying period.

Overwhelmed by suburban sprawl: Sarasota County’s District 1

Johannes Werner: Last week, 10 days before deadline, a woman by the name of Hope Williams filed her write-in candidacy as an independent for District 1 of the Sarasota County Commission. Hope’s write-in candidacy means independent, third-party and Democrat voters in that district will be shut out from electing who will likely be the next person representing this northeastern segment of Sarasota County. That’s nearly half of voters who don’t have a say.

“Spoiler” or “ghost” candidacies are illegal, if money flows from other campaigns. Even if that’s not the case, these kinds of candidacies are generally considered unethical.

The home and email addresses Hope Williams provided in her filing match those of Traci Williams. Traci Williams, among many posts invoking the Bible, Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump, says on Facebook that she is the campaign manager for Teresa Mast. She frequently posts about Mast campaign events.

Alex Coe

Teresa Mast – when it comes to fundraising – is the frontrunner in the Republican primary. Her husband is the executive director of a local construction industry association, and the list of her campaign contributors reads like a Who Is Who of developers. Suburban sprawl, in the shape of thousands of homes planned to replace pastureland, is probably the Number One concern of residents in the district.

Teresa Mast

Mast is running against Alex Coe, another Republican, in the primaries. Coe, head of the Republican Party’s libertarian caucus, has taken votes not popular with developers during her tenure on the county charter review board. Coe is the preferred candidate of grassroots organizers resisting large-scale sprawl.

The Sarasota Democrats issued a press release today decrying what they call a “Mickey Mouse candidate”. Asked last week whether they will field a candidate, Party Chair Dan Kuether said he was “in talks with someone, but yet to see if that will come to fruition”. As of deadline today, there were just 48 hours left to file.

The League of Women Voters Sarasota declined to comment on this specific case. But generally, Vice President Vilia Johnson did talk about the gaps in the current voting system, and how they could be fixed.

Vilia Johnson: Obviously, the League feels strongly that that kind of manipulation of the elections is inappropriate. We have a very strong position about establishing criteria for candidates that would mirror the requirements for any other announced candidate, and feel that the presence of a write-in candidate should not close the primary. You know, we can’t speak to if this is a ghost candidate, I can’t really address that. I can just tell you about the League’s position, but I would also say that one way to address this is if we had open primaries in our state. Florida is one of only 15 states that has closed primaries that eliminate the ability of everyone to vote, and we, of course, feel that all voters should be able to vote. Right now, 43% of voters consider themselves independent and are not a member of a political party, one of the two major political parties, and so they do not get to vote at all in primary elections. It really inhibits competition between the parties and within the parties, and especially in Sarasota County, they’re increasingly consequential in determining election outcomes. We feel that most, almost all of the elections are determined in the primary, so it’s a very small segment of the voters who are determining the outcomes of our elections.

Traci Williams, Teresa Mast’s campaign manager

JW: We called the phone number in Hope’s filing. A female answered. Asked who she is, she said she wanted any questions sent via text, and that she would issue a press release once she qualifies. Asked via text to comment about her being considered a ghost candidate and possibly a relative of a contender’s campaign manager, the texted back she won’t comment until she qualifies. She also wrote, “Be careful what you print without all the factual information”.

Reporting for WSLR News, this has been Johannes Werner.


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