Given the projections for a close presidential race, Florida election law could once again take center stage in the days leading up to and following the election. With that possibility in mind, I will summarize in a series several legal issues that may come into play in November. This fifth in the series will address election contests.
Election Contests (F.S. 102.168)
An election contest is a lawsuit which challenges the certification of the outcome of an election. An election contest is not available to challenge Florida House or Senate races. These races are solely within the jurisdiction of the Florida Legislature and challenges to certification of the winners to these offices are governed by the rules of the applicable house. However, an election contest suit can be brought to challenge a Florida House or Senate nomination after a closed primary.
Although federal congressional races can be challenged through an election contest suit, the Senate and House of Representatives bear the ultimate constitutional responsibility to adjudicate disputed congressional elections.
An election contest suit can be brought by an unsuccessful candidate or any voter or taxpayer. The suit must be filed within 10 days after certification of the election.
The grounds for contesting an election are:
(a) Misconduct, fraud, or corruption on the part of any election official or any member of the canvassing board sufficient to change or place in doubt the result of the election.
(b) Ineligibility of the successful candidate for the nomination or office in dispute.
(c) Receipt of a number of illegal votes or rejection of a number of legal votes sufficient to change or place in doubt the result of the election.
(d) Proof that any elector, election official, or canvassing board member was given or offered a bribe or reward in money, property, or any other thing of value for the purpose of procuring the successful candidate’s nomination or election or determining the result on any question submitted by referendum.
Legal remedies other than an election contest suit might also be available depending on the circumstances. For example, a petition for mandamus could be brought to compel an election official to properly perform a duty, such as conducting a recount.