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Politics / Issues

VoteFest Aims To Register Voters, Connect Residents With Candidates

A music festival Sunday in Pasco County featured not only local bands, but local political candidates.

"VoteFest" featured five local bands taking the stage in between three-minute speeches by candidates for city, county, state, and national offices.

The Pasco Supervisor of Elections Office was on site at VoteFest with hopes of registering first-time voters, like Nicole Dominguez.

"I really need to start doing something,” Dominguez said. “I'm 19 and go to college. I was like, 'I want to make a difference.' Since we're registering to vote here, it's simple, it's easy and I can just walk to it."

Those with lapsed voter registration, or snowbirds with dual residency not yet registered to vote in Florida, were also encouraged to sign up.

Greg Smithwick organized the event, and hopes to hold it annually in Port Richey.

“We feel that voting represents the most basic and important right and privilege of adult Americans.  It is our most direct method of impacting the political discussion, from small towns to the White House, and we wanted to give voters and potential voters a chance to hear directly from the candidates whose actions will impact their lives,” Smithwick said.

“We have invited all candidates currently listed as running for office in Pasco in 2018, whether they are running for city council or governor.”

WUSF's Daylina Miller speaks to Port Richey resident Greg Smithwick about why he decided to create VoteFest.

He says of the dozen or so candidates who attended to meet with voters, only one - Rep. Amber Mariano - currently holds office.

“Anything like this where there is a forum where everyone can come … I was in their shoes a year ago,” Mariano said. “I just was elected. I think it’s a good thing to go to all the events that you possibly can.”

“It’s your duty to vote, even if you don’t like who is on the ballot. Whether you vote or not, someone is going to get elected, so it’s important to do your homework and people here are obviously doing that.”

Mariano says she hopes more candidates come out to next year’s event.

Smithwick says they sent emails to dozens of political candidates, from various parties. 

"We feel like we engaged everybody, and who responded is ... maybe voters should pay attention to that. Maybe voters should pay attention to who is making an effort to get out and meet them on the field,” Smithwick said.

Most of the candidates who attended are campaigning for their first time, like Kelly Smith, a candidate for Pasco County Commission, District 2.

“I'm participating in VoteFest because everyone's vote truly does make a difference and we need to get that message out there," Smith said. "Lots of people think they're not impacted by the results of an election but, especially at the local level, that can't be farther from the truth.”

In Florida, candidates have to pay filing and election assessment fees to the Division of Elections. Political party candidates must pay fees equal to 6 percent of the annual salary of the office being sought. Unaffiliated candidates pay 4 percent.

Not all candidates can afford this, Smithwick said, so they turn to petition signatures. Candidates can waive those filing fees with a petition of signatures equal to at least 1 percent of the total number of registered voters in the geographical area represented by the office being sought.

“Signatures for this petition may not be collected until the candidate has filed the appointment of campaign treasurer and designation of campaign depository form, and the completed petition must be filed by the 28th day preceding the first day of the qualifying period for the office being sought. This petition must be filed with the supervisor of elections in each county in which the petition was circulated in order to verify the signatures. The supervisor of elections in the county must then certify the number of valid signatures to the Florida Division of Elections no later than seven days prior to the first day of the corresponding qualifying period,” according to ballotpedia.org.

Don Baldeuf, a Republican from Manatee County who is running for Florida governor, said events like VoteFest help him get those signatures and reach more potential voters.

“I like to speak with people, rather than speak to people,” Baldeuf said. “The more people we talk to directly, and they like what we have to say, they’ll tell 10 people, who are going to tell 10 people, who are going to tell 10 people. So what if I don’t have a million dollars in the bank account? This is a different age.”

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