Pinellas seeks injunction against election changes

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Posted May 5, 2022 | By Jim Saunders
Florida News Service

With a candidate-qualifying period looming in June, Pinellas County is seeking a temporary injunction to block part of a new state law that would make changes in the election of Pinellas County commissioners.

Pinellas attorneys filed a motion for an injunction Monday, three days after filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a section of a broad elections law.

The lawsuit and motion contend that the section would improperly apply only to Pinellas County and would require elections this year for two county-commission seats that otherwise would not come up for election until 2024.

“Pinellas County will sustain irreparable harm if this court does not issue the requested temporary injunction as two current Pinellas County commissioners will be forced to run for reelection in the 2022 general election despite being only two years into the four-year terms for which they were elected, and the stability afforded to the board through staggered terms will be jeopardized. … It is unlikely that the challenge brought by Pinellas County will be fully and finally resolved prior to the primary election,” the motion said. “Once an election occurs, there is no do-over and practically speaking, no redress.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis last week signed the bill (SB 524), which drew controversy because of other issues, such as its creation of a new state office to investigate alleged voting irregularities.

But the law also would change the timing of the election of two Pinellas County commissioners, the lawsuit and motion said. Term-limited state Rep. Chris Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who is a close ally of House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, is running for one of those two commission seats, according to the Pinellas County elections website.

The lawsuit names as defendants Secretary of State Laurel Lee and Attorney General Ashley Moody. It alleges, in part, that the challenged part of the measure is what is known as an unconstitutional “special law” because it would effectively apply only to Pinellas County.

Because of exceptions included in the law, the motion said 66 of the state’s 67 counties would be exempted, “leaving only Pinellas County subject to the mandatory election.”

Also, Pinellas County contends that the measure contradicts part of the Florida Constitution requiring staggered terms for county commissioners.

“The temporary injunction will maintain the base level of continuity in the composition of the Board of County Commissioners achieved by the staggered four-year terms, which would otherwise be jeopardized by the election mandated by the challenged provision,” Monday’s motion said.

The state has not filed documents in the case, which has been assigned to Circuit Judge John Cooper. Qualifying for this year’s elections will start June 13.