Appeals court places Pasco School Board candidate back on ballot for now

A lower court had ruled Al Hernandez ineligible, and said votes for him should not count.

Tampa Bay Times | By Jeffrey S. Solochek | October 25, 2022

After a series of circuit court losses in his bid to remain on the Nov. 8 ballot, Pasco County School Board candidate Al Hernandez picked up a favorable ruling Tuesday at just the right time.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal halted a lower court’s order declaring Hernandez ineligible, allowing him to resume campaigning while awaiting the outcome of his appeal. The appeals court ruling came one day before in-person early voting begins in Pasco County.

Circuit court judge Susan Barthle had denied Hernandez’s request for a stay, contending such a move could lead to voter disenfranchisement. She wrote that she did not see Hernandez as likely to prevail in his appeal of her decision, which found that he did not reside in the east Pasco region he wants to represent at the time of qualification, as required by law.

In a one-page order, the appeals court accepted Hernandez’s motion for a stay and also agreed to take up the appeal on an expedited basis. It set a Friday deadline to receive an initial brief, with the reply to be filed by Nov. 2.

As a result of the action, the county elections office will not be posting disqualification notices in each early voting privacy booth, as it had been scheduled to do, supervisor Brian Corley said.

It also will remove the disqualification notice from its website and from all future vote-by-mail ballots that are sent out.

Those notifications have been in place since the initial order disqualifying Hernandez came out nearly two weeks ago. They told voters that any vote cast for Hernandez would not change the outcome of the race, because only one candidate was eligible for the ballot.

Teacher James Washington, who placed second to Hernandez in the August primary, has encouraged his supporters to cast ballots for him regardless, saying the courts ultimately could deem Hernandez eligible.

In a text message, Hernandez called Tuesday’s decision “great news.”

“This order allows me to continue to campaign and remain on the ballot during the time the appeal is being decided,” he said. “This is a huge win for Team Hernandez and for the students and staff of Pasco County.”

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