Re-registered Democrats want a say in who their next supervisor of elections is

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent speaks to the audience during a campaign debate with Jon Thaxton on July 9 at Selby Library. Photo by Norman Schimmel

When Victoria Brill, the daughter of a local GOP bigwig, filed paperwork to run as a write-in candidate in this year’s supervisor of elections race, she immediately blocked more than 150,000 Sarasota County Democrats and independents (56% of registered voters) from playing a role in selecting their new supervisor.

Because of state laws that allow primary elections to be limited to registered members of a particular party if another candidate has registered for the general election, only the county’s registered Republicans can cast a vote in the race between County Commissioner Jon Thaxton and incumbent Supervisor Kathy Dent. But that didn’t mean non-Republicans couldn’t temporarily switch parties to cast a ballot in the race, and that’s just what many local Democrats did.

According to Supervisor Administrative Assistant Joyce Soltis, 288 Democrats filed party changes between June 1 (shortly after Brill filed her paperwork) and July 16 (the deadline for registering for the primary). Of course there’s no way to know if all 288 Democrats switched allegiances just to cast a ballot in the supervisor race, but odds are many did just that.

Dent remains widely unpopular among local Democrats for her handling of the 2006 undervote in the narrow Vern Buchanan/Christine Jennings congressional race, and Thaxton has earned a reputation as an independent commissioner who’s not afraid to buck the party line.

Odds are those 288 votes won’t have a discernible impact on a race in which more than 120,000 Republicans are eligible, but crazier things have happened. Just ask Dent.

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