Write-in candidate limits who will be able to vote in Manatee County Commission race
Before he filed, Manuel Antonio Llamas had been enthusiastic supporter of Jason Bearden in his bid to unseat Carol Whitmore in GOP primary.
We have officially entered the Machiavellian portion of the 2022 elections in Manatee County.
First, Commissioner Vanessa Baugh interjected herself into the process of naming a new park in Commissioner Misty Servia’s district, in a bid maybe to embarrass Servia and aid her challenger, Mike Rahn, in the Republican primary on Aug. 23.
And now a buddy of Jason Bearden, who is challenging Commissioner Carol Whitmore in another GOP primary, has renewed the local tradition of running as a sort of ghost write-in candidate, a legal, but undemocratic move that limits who will be able to vote in the race.
Manuel Antonio Llamas, of Lakewood Ranch, on Monday filed to run as a qualified write-in candidate in the Nov. 8 general election in the at-large District 6 race, which means any votes he gets will be counted, unlike write-in votes for Mickey Mouse or Snooty the manatee.
Previously, the GOP primary for the District 6 seat was setting up to be an “open” primary. Since no Democrats, independents or members of other parties had filed to run, any registered voter regardless of party affiliation would have been able to vote in the Republican primary since the winner, Whitmore, Bearden or a third candidate, Carol Felts, would be the one who would be sworn into office.
Llamas’ no-chance candidacy (no write-in candidate has ever won a Florida election) means now only registered Republicans — and anyone who changes their registration to the GOP by July 25 — will decide who will represent the entire county on the commission.
Whitmore is a loyal Republican, but that’s not good enough for the Trumpian wing of her party. She is being challenged from her far right by Bearden, a self-proclaimed “America First” candidate who is running more on his biography — military veteran, entrepreneur, motivational speaker, etc. — than on any detailed platform to win voter support. Nonetheless, considering recent electoral history in Manatee, which has seen conservative populists thin on policy but thick on rhetoric take majority control of the commission, Bearden has to be taken seriously.
In my experience covering elections in Manatee County since 2006, write-in candidates have entered several local races and likely affected some of the outcomes by limiting who could vote in primary elections. For example, in 2012, after two write-in candidates entered the race, Betsy Benac ousted long-time incumbent Joe McClash, a populist popular with Republicans and Democrats alike, in the GOP primary, and then cruised to an easy general election win.
Usually, these write-in candidates are ghosts. I cannot remember a time when any of them made themselves available for debates or interviews with the media.
Antonio Llamas, a registered Republican, is not a ghost. Just look at his Facebook account.
Soon after the local media reported that Llamas had filed, sharp-eyed social media users began circulating photos from Llamas’ Facebook account that show him posing with Bearden as they gathered petition signatures needed to get Bearden on the ballot and otherwise displaying his support for his fellow Republican.
Some of accused Bearden and Llamas of “cheating” and committing “election fraud,” which Llamas’ candidacy is not.
That’s just the way Florida law is written to ensure that being a registered party member actually means something — like having the ability to limit who can vote in a party primary.
Like I said, undemocratic.
Marc R. Masferrer @MRMasferrerLlamas is a registered Republican but he signed up to run as a qualified write-in candidate. https://t.co/JMErCitpcV
Without claiming responsibility for Llamas entering the race, Bearden made no apologies — and maybe revealed what’s really going on.
“The liberals are so mad at me right now because they can’t vote for my opponent in the primary,” Bearden wrote on Facebook. “This is going be a fun 3 months. They hate America first candidates that have vision for our county!’