Political science student runs for local race

Michael Gaeta, a 21-year-old student, is about to enter his senior year at the University of Central Florida, where he is majoring in political science. He’s also getting some real-world experience within his major, as a write-in candidate for Brevard County clerk of courts.

Gaeta says he hasn’t been campaigning, and hasn’t raised any money. He has been pretty busy, between college and his part-time job as a server at an Orlando Cracker Barrel restaurant.

But Gaeta has had an impact on the race. Because of Gaeta’s candidacy, Democrats, members of minor parties and independent voters likely will have little say in choosing the next clerk, even though they make up 57 percent of the voters in the county.

The only other candidates in the race are both Republicans: incumbent Mitch Needelman and his predecessor, Scott Ellis. The two face off in Tuesday’s Republican primary.

Had no other candidates qualified for the race, that primary would have been open to all voters, regardless of their party registration.

In order to run for most offices in Florida, candidates need to pay a fee of 4 percent to 6 percent of the annual salary of the office they are seeking or get 1 percent of eligible voters to sign a petition to get them on the ballot.

Write-in candidates, though, need only fill out some simple paperwork. They neither need to pay a fee or collect signatures.

The ease with which write-in candidates in Florida can get on the ballot — and close a primary — makes the process a cheap and easy way of ensuring independent voters and members of opposing parties can’t vote in races. The tactic has been used across the state by both Republicans and Democrats.

Write-in candidates typically garner only a tiny fraction of all votes cast.

The appearance of write-in candidate in a race almost always sparks rumors about who might have put him or her up to it, although the candidates rarely weigh in on the matter.

Gaeta isn’t being coy about why he is running, though: to ensure that only Republicans are eligible to vote in the clerk’s race.

Read more about Gaeta and his plan to ensure that only Republicans are eligible to vote in the clerk’s race by clicking here.


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