A state appeals court has reversed a lower court ruling that kicked Democrat Rebekah Jones off the ballot in the Democratic Primary for Florida’s 1st Congressional District.
Jones was removed from the ballot due to her not meeting party registration requirements in state law governing candidate eligibility. Her removal was later stayed by the court pending appeal.
Florida law requires candidates to have been a registered voter of the party for which they are seeking the nomination for at least one year before the qualification deadline, which was in June.
Jones, who moved from Florida to Maryland, had registered as a Democrat in that state in April 2021. Notably, Florida law does not require candidates to live within the district they are running for until they assume office.
However, in June she changed her registration to unaffiliated. Jones initially indicated that she would run for CD 1 as an independent but updated her paperwork with the Federal Election Commission in August to run as a Democrat.
In a lower court decision, Jones was deemed ineligible because her party swap was made too late into the cycle.
Jones appealed the decision and Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal sided with her in 3-0 ruling on Monday.
According to the ruling, the “heart of this dispute” stems on “whether the veracity of a duly qualified candidate’s sworn party affiliation statement under section 99.021 may be challenged and used as a basis for disqualification from the ballot. It cannot.”
The court said that “in plain terms” the law “does not require proof of actual party affiliation, nor does it speak at all to disqualification of a candidate if those sworn affirmations turn out to be untrue. It provides no express authority to disqualify a party candidate if she was not in fact a registered party member during the 365-day window.
“Although the Legislature could have included explicit enforcement language in this statute, it didn’t,” the court concluded.
The action means that voters in the Democratic Primary for CD 1 will still be deciding between Jones and fellow Democrat Peggy Schiller, who filed the lawsuit challenging Jones’ candidacy.
“I am naturally disappointed with the ruling today by the Appellate Court, but I support the decision and will not be appealing based on timing. I will now remain laser-focused on the task at hand — winning the Primary tomorrow and unseating Matt Gaetz in November,” Schiller said in a prepared statement.
“Our goal in filing this lawsuit was to reach a swift decision before the Primary. Not filing or waiting to do so would have allowed the Republican nominee to leverage this information to disqualify Jones if she were to win the Primary, potentially leaving no Democrat available to challenge the Republican nominee in November. Therefore, despite today’s ruling, I still believe this was the right action to take.
“We very much appreciate the support that we have received from the community. While the Appellate Court did not agree today, as someone who follows election laws, I hope that voters will realize I am the only true Democrat qualified to represent our district.”
The winner of the Democratic Primary will face the winner of the Republican Primary in November. That will likely be incumbent U.S. Rep. Gaetz, who is widely expected to defeat Republican challenger Mark Lombardo on Tuesday.