GREEN COVE SPRINGS – With less than two weeks until the Nov. 6 general election, a local school board candidate has filed a suit against her opponent seeking her removal from the ballot.
Incumbent Ashley Gilhousen, who represents District 5 on the Clay County School Board, accused her opponent Lynn Chafee last week of failing to properly qualify as a District 5 school board seat candidate. The suit filed Oct. 23 claims Chafee was not a resident of District 5 at the time of qualifying and because of that, is asking a circuit court judge to remove Chafee’s name from the ballot. However, at the same time, Clay County Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambless, said based on the documents Chafee filed for her candidacy, Chafee is a resident of District 5.
“After further review, Supervisor Chambless has confirmed that the documents that Chafee filed were properly completed and her voter registration address on file does fall within the District 5 boundaries,” according to an official statement released by the Supervisor of Elections office on Oct. 17. “However, whether Chafee legally resides at that residency is out of his purview.”
“Based on the false documents Defendant Chafee submitted to Supervisor Chambless, Chambless justifiably – though in error – certified that Defendant Chafee was qualified to run for Clay County School Board, District 5,” states the lawsuit.
The suit filed by Gilhousen against both Chambless and Chafee claims Chafee does own a house in District 5 but, it was not the home she was residing in at the time of qualification. Instead, Gilhousen claims Chafee was living in a Fleming Island house at the time of qualifying. Under Florida law, a candidate’s primary residence must fall within the district boundaries at the time of qualification. It’s this statute that Gilhousen’s case stands on.
“I own three homes and my legal residence is my home in Green Cove Springs and it was at the time of qualifying,” Chafee said.
Chafee said she has been at the Fleming Island home lately because she is about to put it on the market. Because of that, she is there often to clean and clear it out.
Chafee describes the lawsuit as a distracting scare tactic by Gilhousen and her team. She said it nothing more than a cheap trick.
“I haven’t done anything wrong and I hope the voters can see through this cheap trick,” Chafee said. “It’s desperate and dirty tactics from my opponent and I hope people can see the attack for what it is.”
Gilhousen, on the other hand, said it is neither a distraction technique nor a scare tactic. Instead, she said it’s an oath she swore as a school board member that compelled her to file the suit.
“It’s important to me that we respect the rule of law,” Gilhousen said. “As an elected official, I swore an oath that I would uphold the Constitution of the State of Florida and the United States of America, and I feel that I’m duly bound by that law. My commitment to the voters of Clay County is that I will do everything I can to ensure the integrity of our political process to ensure our laws are upheld.”
While Gilhousen acknowledged how late in the race this lawsuit has come, she said it was because it was only recently brought to her attention, in late September, that Chafee was not a District 5 resident.
“If it was brought to my attention months ago, all of this would have happened months ago,” Gilhousen said.
Chafee said it’s worrisome and scary that somebody has been following her around, photographing her.
While Gilhousen’s team ensured this claim made its way to the Supervisor of Elections, she never expected Chambless and his staff to investigate the issue.
“Just to be very clear, I never asked the Supervisor of Elections office to do an investigation because I know that it is not within his purview to do so,” Gilhousen said. “There are statutory limitations and because of those, it would not be a legal thing for him to do or engage in, so I never made that request of him.”
Now, like Chafee, Chambless is being sued by Gilhousen although according to the official filing, Chambless’ name is attached in official capacity only.
“Defendant Chambless is the constitutional officer charged with administering elections within Clay County, Florida and is a necessary and indispensable party for the purposes of the relief sought by this action,” the lawsuit reads.
At press time, Chafee is a legal candidate in the District 5 School Board race. The lawsuit asks that the court order Chambless to de-certify Chafee and remove her name from the ballot as a candidate. However, voters already are casting mail-in ballots and it is unclear whether a judge will hear the case before Nov. 6. Gilhousen said she could not speak on that matter and what that means for the election.
Chambless said if a court orders a candidate’s name off a ballot after ballots have already been printed, but before the election is over, typically, the Supervisor of Elections office would attempt to suppress the results. This means that mail-in ballots would go out to voters with a memo to explain a candidate on the ballot has been removed by court order. At voting booths, voters would see a notice that explains this as well.
Gilhousen filed the lawsuit with Jacksonville attorney Paul Renner, who also serves as a member of the Florida House of Representatives. Chafee has not yet requested the services of a lawyer, though.
“At this point, I have only heard through word of mouth that I’m being sued,” Chafee said. “I haven't’ received anything to that effect so if and when that occurs, then I’ll take whatever steps myself and my advisor feel is appropriate.”
Gilhousen said she hoped Chafee would have withdrawn from the race and eliminated the need for attorneys and court.
“My hope was that once she became aware, she would do the right thing and remove herself from the ballot,” Gilhousen said. “I’m disappointed that hasn’t happened yet.”
Chafee said she has no plans to withdraw herself from the ballot.
“Ballots are already out and this election, like my race, is moving forward,” Chafee said.
Chafee is in a runoff with Gilhousen after neither candidate received 50 percent of the vote plus one additional vote needed to win a school board race. Since the Aug. 28 primary, their opponent Travis Christensen has thrown his support behind Chafee.