Former Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox has been removed from office by Governor Ron DeSantis. Maddox pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. But the one-time state Democratic Party chair remains an active candidate for a state senator seat. WFSU spoke with several elections experts about what would bar candidates from getting onto a ballot.
“People look to Bill Montford for the best wisdom they can have when it comes to education policy,” former state legislator and current Florida State University president John Thrasher said of the Seat 3 senator. “He’ll be sorely missed in the Florida Legislature.”
Montford’s term is up in 2020. There are five candidates filed with the State Division of Elections vying to replace him. Among them is Scott Maddox, who just weeks ago, pleaded guilty to federal extortion and tax fraud charges.
“The government dismissed 39 of the 42 counts Mr. Maddox was charged with, and he accepts responsibility for the things he did do wrong,” Maddox’s lawyer Stephen Dobson told reporters immediately after his client’s guilty plea. “But he wants to move on, for his life, his family’s life, and Tallahassee.”
Even with Maddox listed as an active candidate, it appears becoming a state senator won’t be part of his ‘moving on.’
Leon County elections supervisor Mark Earley explained Maddox technically could go through the whole process, right up until getting into office.
“Mr. Maddox is filed as a candidate for State Senate Seat 3 – he has not qualified, because the qualifying period hasn’t begun, it’s a one-week period,” Earley said. “That will be later next year.”
To qualify, candidates have to pay a fee and file financial disclosure documents, Earley said.
“Really, there’s nothing to prevent him from qualifying, as long as he can get there and file the papers and all of that,” Earley said. “Statutorily, the requirements kick in when you actually take office.”
Maddox is facing a maximum of 45 years in prison on the three charges he pleaded guilty to and will be sentenced in November – making it unlikely he’d show up in person to qualify in June. But even if Maddox did, Earley says, the former Commissioner wouldn’t be able to take office anyway.
“I believe one of the requirements for that seat is to be a registered voter, or to have your voting rights, in effect,” Earley said. “And since he’s pleaded guilty, essentially he’s convicted of a felony, and he will not be on the voter rolls much longer.”
Earley isn’t the qualifying officer for Senate Seat 3, that’s under the Department of State. Though, DOS did not return multiple requests for interview.
Stetson University law professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy specializes in election law. She says in theory, there is a long-shot out for candidates who are in a position like Maddox’s.
“I think there may be some ambiguity about how long they can actually stay on the ballot. But, should a convicted felon ‘win’ the election, they can’t be seated in an office in Florida, under the Florida constitution, unless a governor actually pardons them,” Torres-Spelliscy said. “But if you’re talking about a federal crime, you’d actually have to have a pardon from the president to get rid of a federal crime.”
Maddox was once the youngest mayor Tallahassee had ever seen, and his political star rose to the level of statewide Democratic party chair. It’s unlikely he’d receive a pardon from President Donald Trump.