A lawsuit filed in the circuit court of Monroe County on Sept. 22 is requesting that the county elections office and the elections supervisor count all votes cast in Islamorada’s seat 4 race between Henry Rosenthal and the late Ken Davis in the November general election.
Filed by Islamorada resident Eric Carlson, the lawsuit seeks declaratory and equitable relief prohibiting “unauthorized election interference within the municipal boundaries of Islamorada…” The lawsuit was filed against the Florida Division of Elections, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee and Monroe County Elections Supervisor R. Joyce Griffin.
With the passing of Davis from heart failure and a massive stroke on Sept. 12, Griffin told the Weekly that votes cast in the race would not be counted. With ballots already printed, a notice is set to go out notifying voters that Davis passed away and that a vote cast in the race will not change the outcome as the remaining candidate, Rosenthal, is deemed by law to be elected for that race. Mail-in ballots will begin to go out on Sept. 24.
The lawsuit states that following the qualifying period ending on Aug. 11, 2020, two candidates, Rosenthal and Davis, qualified to run for council’s seat 4. Despite Davis’ passing, the lawsuit says that neither death, incapacity nor disqualification of a candidate are referenced in Florida statute as instances resulting in creating an unopposed candidate. The lawsuit seeks to prohibit Griffin from mailing, delivering or posting online notices regarding the seat 4 race. It also requests that she count all votes cast.
“In addition, in an interview printed in the Sept. 17, 2020 Keys Weekly, defendant R. Joyce Griffin has flatly stated her intention to completely abrogate her statutory duties as supervisor of elections with respect to the seat ‘4’ election by pronouncing that her office ‘will not be counting the race,’ thereby knowingly disenfranchising all voters who wish to cast a ballot for either candidate for seat 4, all of whom will be irreparably harmed if she fails to do so.”
Griffin told the Weekly on the morning of Sept. 23 that she hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on the matter. Griffin did say, however, that she heard a lawsuit was possible.
“I had hoped that they would sue prior to vote-by-mails going out,” Griffin said. “You have to remember there’s another candidate, there’s another person to respect in this episode. Now, the vote-by-mail ballots that are going out tomorrow have that little paper in them saying ‘do not cast,’ that this race has already been decided. … It’s unfortunate that they took so long.”
The lawsuit is seeking an emergency hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 23. Carlson told the Weekly that he’s waiting on a date and time. Carlson said Griffin is overstepping in discounting the election by indicating that she wouldn’t count the votes, leading to an automatic win for Rosenthal.
“If you have a supervisor of elections who starts adjusting ballots for whatever reason, it’s a slippery slope,” he said. “This will give people options. If they want to vote for the man, they certainly should be allowed to.”
Carlson ran against Davis in the 2018 election. Davis ultimately won to take the seat. Carlson acknowledged his support for Davis in his run for a second term in the 2020 election.
Islamorada’s other four seats are up for grabs with current council members running for other offices, terming out or electing not to run again. The other four races each have two candidates, with Pete Bacheler and Frank Lavin vying for seat 1. Mark Gregg and Cheryl Meads are running for seat 2, while Jenny Bell-Thomson and Joseph “Buddy” Pinder are squaring off in the race for seat 3. Larry Zettwoch and David Webb are running for seat 5.
-This story will be updated as more becomes available