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Supervisor of Elections Candidate Dan Helm sues Cynthia Harris for allegedly paying qualifying fee from personal account

June 29, 2024 at 11:45:56 PM

Lucy Dillon


Dan Helm claims in a new lawsuit that Cynthia Harris' qualifying fee for the Supervisor of Elections race was paid from her personal account. Harris called Helm's accusation politically and racially motivated because she is the only Black, female, unaffiliated candidate in the race.

Attorney Dan Helm, a Democratic candidate for Orange County Supervisor of Elections, Thursday filed a lawsuit in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court against Cynthia Harris, the no-party-affiliated candidate, alleging that she improperly paid her qualifying fee.

The lawsuit claims Harris used a personal check to pay the qualifying fee before the June 14 deadline and that she “falsely indicated” to the filing officer that the check was drawn from a campaign account. Orange County Supervisor of Elections Glen Gilzean is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. 

“This is a clear violation of the rules for qualifying,” Helm told VoxPopuli in a Friday phone interview. “It’s a disqualifying factor for a candidate, particularly one that is running for the office that has to enforce these rules.”

Florida Statute states that the filing fee must be “A properly executed check drawn upon the candidate’s campaign account payable to the person or entity as prescribed by the filing officer in an amount not less than the fee required by s. 99.092 unless the candidate obtained the required number of signatures on petitions pursuant to s. 99.095.” In other words: no personal checks allowed.

“Based on the facts set forth above, Defendant Harris did not comply with the statutory requirements to qualify for the contest,” the complaint alleges. “Therefore, the Court should declare Defendant Harris disqualified and direct Defendant Gilzean to remove her name from any ballot for the Contest.”

Harris denied Helm’s allegations, telling VoxPopuli Saturday that the check came from a campaign account. She also said Helm has personally asked her to drop out of the race multiple times before he filed the lawsuit.

“Dan has been harassing me for quite some time,” Harris said. She added she believes his complaint is politically motivated and racially motivated. She is the only Black woman and NPA running for Supervisor of Elections. When asked what she believed the outcome of the lawsuit would be, she said, “I know I’m winning.”

Court documents show Harris used a check from TD Bank to pay the qualifying fee on June 14. “Campaign acct” was written at the top of the check. However, the lawsuit alleges Harris listed Additions Financial as her campaign bank in her first DS-DE 9 form submitted in October 2023. On a second form submitted in May, she listed Fairwinds as her campaign bank. The lawsuit claims that TD Bank was never officially listed on any of Harris’ campaign paperwork.

“The statute is pretty strict. 99.061 says failure to pay the fee in the right manner shall disqualify the person,” Helm said. After requesting public records on several candidates’ paperwork, Helm said he found a few concerning items in Harris’ paperwork. The only item worthy of disqualification was the improperly paid fee. Other issues included Harris writing “N/A” over her Form 6 filing and late contribution reports, according to Helm. 

After a visit to the Supervisor of Elections office Tuesday to verify there wasn’t another form changing her depository, Helm said he had a decision to make.

“I can’t look the other way, as much as I like Cynthia,” Helm said. 

“The [election] process is under attack in a lot of ways, and we’ve all got to do our part to make sure it’s fair to everybody,” he said. 

Should Helm’s lawsuit succeed, the current five-person Supervisor of Elections race would dwindle to four. All remaining candidates on the ballot —  Helm, Orange County School Board Member Karen Castor Dentel, real estate broker “Sunshine” Linda-Marie Grund and former Orange County Democratic Party chair Wes Hodge — are Democrats. That means the Aug. 20 primary would open up to all voters, and the primary winner would become the new supervisor of elections, unless no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, in which case, a runoff will take place during the general election on Nov. 5. 

Mail-in ballots start arriving in mailboxes July 15. The last day to register to vote or change your party affiliation is July 22. The last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot is Aug. 8. Early voting begins Aug. 5 and runs through Aug. 18. Check for locations. 

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