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A special election to replace Latvala now? Too costly, experts say

Former Sen. Jack Latvala’s resignation in a sexual harassment scandal leaves about half-a million residents of Tampa Bay without an elected voice in the state Senate, and it appears they won’t have one until November.

Election supervisors in Pinellas and Pasco counties have advised Gov. Rick Scott’s voting experts that the cost of a special election is so high -- more than $1 million -- that it makes sense to leave the seat vacant until next November when it will be filled anyway, because Latvala’s term was due to expire and he could not run again because of term limits.

Supervisors Deborah Clark in Pinellas and Brian Corley in Pasco were asked by the state Division of Elections to offer expert advice.

They said the time line for an election, starting on the date candidates qualify to be on the ballot and ending with the official certification of results, is 136 days.

That means voters could not choose an interim replacement until May or June.

State law requires a 45-day window for ballots to be sent to overseas and active military voters, and results of an election are not ratified until 14 days after the polls close.

The cost of an election includes opening and staffing early voting sites, paying poll workers and mailing ballots in a district with nearly 350,000 voters.

But special elections typically attract very small turnouts.

Clark and Corley noted that waiting until the fall to elect Latvala’s successor would require no additional costs, because a statewide election is already scheduled.

“I really feel that this is a common-sense decision,” Clark said. “The information that we’ve provided makes a clear picture.”

Scott is expected to support the two supervisors’ recommendation because his administration requested it.

“Justifying that cost to have a (senator’s) name on the door is problematic,” Corley said. “It’s really hard to justify.”

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who’s likely to be the next Senate president next fall, agreed that a special election is too expensive.

“There’s a significant cost element,” Galvano said.