Will Airport Authority primary be open or closed?

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CHARLOTTE COUNTY — The August primary for an Airport Authority race could be closed to only registered Republican voters — but this is still up in the air.

This is thanks to Martin Dorio, a write-in candidate from Englewood. Dorio’s candidacy closes the primary, meaning only registered Republican voters can vote for the two other candidates: Vanessa Oliver and Bob Starr.

Dorio did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Sun. Both Starr and Oliver denied knowing Dorio.

However, Dorio does not appear to live in Charlotte County.

According to property records, Dorio’s listed address with the Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections is in Sarasota County, and not Charlotte County. Dorio’s address resides in the 545th precinct in Sarasota County, according to the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections website.

Under Florida law, though, Charlotte County Airport Authority candidates must reside in their district.

“Each candidate for the office of commissioner of the authority must reside in the district from which such candidate seeks election for at least 6 months immediately before the time of qualifying to run for that office,” the law states.

Punta Gorda Airport spokesperson Kaley Miller is not aware of a geographic conflict like this occurring in the Airport Authority’s past. “We will have to look into it to see if any further action is recommended at this point,” she said.

Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections Paul Stamoulis sent an email to Dorio Thursday morning, informing him of the statute and asking if he has any additional information which would satisfy the residency requirement. And if Dorio does not, Stamoulis asked if he would voluntarily withdraw his candidacy.

Without a response from Dorio as of Friday morning, it is pending whether the primary will be closed or not.

Florida law does not allow county supervisors of elections, nor his office, to determine whether the papers are accurate when a candidate submits their qualifying documents.

When a candidate is qualified for office at the Supervisor of Elections, “our duty is ministerial and we are certifying that all required paperwork has been filled out, and the proper number of petitions or fee amount submitted,” said Stamoulis.

“We have no authority in the law to investigate the accuracy or efficacy of the information provided,” he continued. “It is generally left to the candidates themselves or to the Authority itself to challenge violations.”

The Charlotte County Airport Authority is considered a special district, which was created under the Florida Legislature. “As such, it has the duty and responsibility under Florida law, to conduct its own elections,” Stamoulis states on the Supervisor of Elections website.

The current representative of District 1 in the Airport Authority and current chair of the board, Pamella Seay, decided not to run for office again this year after serving for 24 years. Seay has put her support behind Oliver, according to past reports.

More than 45% of voters in Charlotte County are registered as Republicans, according to data from the Charlotte Supervisor of Elections as of Wednesday. This leaves 79,446 registered voters, either Democrat or other, barred from voting for their District 1 representative at the Aug. 18 primary election.

Then, whoever wins the primary will face off against the write-in candidate.

The Airport Authority District 3 seat is also up for election. Incumbent Paul Andrews faces no-party candidate Haven Ratcliff. Voters do not have to live in that district to vote for a representative, as any registered voter in the county can vote for all open offices within the Airport Authority.

If the primary does end up being closed, Starr said, “It does not help me any more than my opposition.”

“As I see it, the other party needs to step up and field candidates,” Starr continued. “Then they have a choice of candidates who have the same philosophy as they do.”

If Oliver wins the primary, she hopes to reach out to all voters to discuss her platform and “hopefully earn their support in November,” she told the Sun Thursday.

Originally published in the Charlotte Sun on June 19, 2020.

Click here to view the published article.

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