By Terry Spencer
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The Democratic Florida congressional candidate who lost a special election primary by five votes has filed two lawsuits asking that the result be thrown out, alleging his opponent’s support of a universal income plan amounted to bribing voters.
Dale Holness alleges Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick’s support of a proposal that would pay most U.S. adults $1,000 a month was an attempt to illegally bribe voters. His lawsuit also wants counted 18 overseas mail-in ballots received from military members and others that were rejected by elections officials because they arrived after Election Day and, officials said, didn’t qualify for an extension. He also says Cherfilus-McCormick should be disqualified because she did not file a financial disclosure form with the U.S. House.
Cherfilus-McCormick, a health-care company executive, won the Nov. 2 primary to replace longtime U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who died of cancer in April. Florida’s 20th District is overwhelmingly Democratic and she is heavily favored to win the January general election to fill the last year of Hastings’ term. The state certified her victory two weeks ago, saying she received 11,662 votes to Holness’ 11,657.
“None of the three allegations are even close to having merit. They are not in a gray area,” her campaign’s attorney, Mitch Ceasar, said Tuesday. He said the issues were already raised with the canvassing boards that oversaw the election and were dismissed.
In the lawsuits, filed jointly on Thanksgiving Eve in Palm Beach and Broward County circuit courts, Holness pointed to several campaign fliers and billboards where Cherfilus-McCormick touted her support for the “People’s Prosperity Plan.” It calls for the federal government to pay $1,000 monthly to every adult who makes less than $75,000 annually. While some progressive Democrats in Congress have supported such plans, there is no chance one would pass in the foreseeable future.
Holness, a Broward County commissioner, called Cherfilus-McCormick’s support “a gimmick designed only to motivate people to vote for her.”
“The ‘plan’ is intended to offer false hope to underserved communities with the intention and purpose of procuring votes,” Holness’ attorneys wrote. They said some district voters told elections officials they had cast ballots for Cherfilus-McCormick and wanted information on how to claim their $1,000.
Ceasar said Cherfilus-McCormick’s proposal is an “aspirational hope” that is protected by her First Amendment free speech rights.
Holness also claims Broward County erred when it rejected some mail-in ballots as being late. Under Florida law, mail-in ballots must be received by 7 p.m. Election Day with one exception: ballots sent by military personnel and other Floridians living outside the country have 10 additional days to arrive, if postmarked by Election Day. Broward County officials said they rejected the ballots, which arrive in special envelopes, because they appeared to have been mailed from within the United States or had no postmark indicating where they were mailed from.
Holness argues the lack of proof that the ballots were sent from a foreign country should not disqualify them, but Ceasar said some of the ballots were postmarked within the district.
Holness also said Cherfilus-McCormick’s failure to file a financial disclosure form with the House disqualified her from running. She loaned about $2 million to her campaign and Holness argues voters have a right to know how she earned that money. While the forms are required, many non-incumbent candidates fail to file them and that does not result in their disqualification as the House cannot punish someone before they are a member. Ceasar said she has filed for an extension.
Hearing dates on the lawsuits have not been set.