Businessman Yukong Zhao (pronounced You-Kong Zow), who is running for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., was going to be left out off the ballot–but a judge has ordered he be placed on it. Now the Florida Department of State has to decide whether or not to fight the decision.
Zhao’s path to the ballot is almost too bizarre to believe. In March, the Department of State put out new guidelines in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the impending shutdown. While candidates normally have to appear in person at the Division of Elections to file their qualifying papers, that requirement was removed due to the state of emergency. The new rules held that a candidate could also qualify by submitting most of their paperwork by email and the qualifying check would have to be delivered by the US Postal Service or some other delivery company.
The qualifying deadline was at noon on April 24 so Zhao had his check delivered by certified mail by 9:30 that morning–which is where things get weird. Mail for the Division of Elections is not sent to the same building as the department, which didn’t immediately check its own mail on qualifying day. Candidates are warned by the Division of Elections that “candidates who file with the Division of Elections are advised that the US Postal Service does not deliver mail directly to the division and the US Postal Service’s designated hours for pick up by the division do not correspond to the qualifying deadline” which throws open the possibility that the division might not check its mail after 8:30 am on qualifying day. Florida Daily tried to ask the Department of State about the matter but spokesman Mark Ard would only say that the department “does not comment on pending litigation.”
Zhao was denied ballot access, which he appealed. A month after qualifying closed, he was included–temporarily at least–on the ballot.
The Department of State did not reach out to Circuit Judge Ronald Flury, filing no motion other than to tell the judge the state–the defendant whose actions caused this lawsuit in the first place–takes no position on what Yukong Zhao asked of the court. In granting the temporary injunction, Flury ruled that the Department of State may not enforce their decision that Zhao did not qualify.
For now, Zhao is listed as qualified for the August primary. He weighed in after the temporary court win.
“The court ruling recognizes that my campaign was wrongly hampered by bureaucratic red tape,” he said. “Starting immediately, I am back on the campaign trail, where I will continue to advocate for the American Dream, defend the Constitution, and fight against the kind of red tape that was used to delay my appearing on the ballot. Our democracy will be strengthened when such red tape is eliminated!”
While the Division of Elections currently lists Zhao as qualified, that does not mean he will stay on the ballot. The department has given no indication that it will concede the lawsuit permanently and the next hearing which may give final clarity on the matter is scheduled for June 16. If he stays on the ballot, Zhao will face businessman Richard Goble and Dr. Leo Valentin in the Republican primary.
Reach Mike Synan at firstname.lastname@example.org.