Official results are in for special primary election
Supervisor of Elections Wesley Wilcox, right, talks with canvassing board members, Craig Curry of the Marion County Commission, left, and Judge Robert Landt, center, as election results come in for the District 24 House of Representatives special election at the Marion County Election Center in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.
A required audit of the results of the March 7 special election to fill the vacant Florida House District 24 seat has found no irregularities in the voting. A further analysis of the voter demographics, however, sheds light on how pre-election maneuvering favorably set the table for the eventual winner while closing the voting booth door to many of the Black voters in the district.
Ryan Chamberlin, a political activist and sales consultant, defeated Jose Juarez, Charlie Stone, Stephen Pyles and Justin Albright in the Republican primary. Voter turnout was low, with only 11,098 voting out of the 61,421 registered Republican voters in District 24.
The primary was only open to Republicans because of a loophole that closes primaries upon the filing of a write-in candidate. Robert “Foxy” Fox, a Republican, told the Gazette previously he was “duped” by Chamberlin’s campaign manager into filing to run as a write-in candidate.
A review of the voter demographics for the district shows the move significantly impacted Black voters. Of the 11,286 Black voters in the district, only 636 are registered as Republicans. Ultimately, only 38 Black voters participated in the special primary election, according to voter demographic reports provided by the Marion County Supervisor of Elections Office.
Of the 11,109 voters who participated in the special primary election, 10,485 were white. Also, voters under the age of 46 who participated in the election only made up 6% of the total votes.
Had the primary not been closed, registered Democrat, Independent and nonparty voters would have outnumbered registered Republicans in the district. However, their only choice would have been which Republican to vote for because there was no Democratic candidate in the race.
As for the validation of the primary election, on March 17 the canvassing board–consisting of Marion County Judge Robert Landt, Marion County Commissioner Craig Curry and Marion County Supervisor of Elections Wesley Wilcox–randomly selected precinct 4170 to be audited.
Starley Ard, public relations coordinator for Wilcox’s office, explained how the board chooses which precinct will be audited.
“We have a ‘bingo’ system that consists of numbered pingpong balls for each participating precinct,’’ Ard said. “Usually, we also draw for a random contest as well; however, we did not this time since the ballot only contained a single contest.”
On March 20, the election team performed an audit of the voting system as prescribed by F.S. 101.591 and Rule 1S-5.026.
“The audit included all ballots cast in precinct 4170 (Vote-by-Mail, Early Voting, and Election Day),’’ Ard said. “A team consisting of two of our full-time staff (unknowing of the vote totals for the selected precinct) sorted the ballots by candidate, then hand-counted ballots from each of the groups and reported their totals, which were then confirmed by the board.’’
The hand count was not an arduous task because only 77 of the 610 Republican voters registered in that precinct cast ballots.
All 132,905 registered voters in District 24, regardless of party, will have the opportunity to vote in the May 16 election. The only candidate on the ballot will be Chamberlin. There also will be a blank line where voters must first bubble in that they are choosing to vote for a write-in candidate, then write in Fox’s name.