Lawsuit filed against Gov. Ron DeSantis concerning seat long-held by U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings

Governor intentionally delaying special election, Rev. Elvin Dowling says
Rev. Elvin Dowling announces his candidacy for Florida's 20th Congressional seat on April 30, 2021
Posted at 10:39 AM, Apr 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-30 17:51:38-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A lawsuit has been filed against Gov. Ron DeSantis concerning who will fill the vacated seat following the recent death of U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings.

Rev. Elvin Dowling, who is among the candidates for the 20th Congressional district, said he filed the lawsuit against the governor of Florida for what he calls the "intentional delay" in calling a special election to fill the seat.

RELATED: Candidates seeking to fill Hastings' seat in Congress

Hastings died April 6 at the age of 84 from pancreatic cancer.

Dowling claims the governor is in violation of the first, 14th and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Rev. Elvin Dowling announces candidacy for seat held by U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, files lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis

"The governor's intentional delay of the vote is a deliberate attempt to curry favor with far-right-wing extremists in the 2024 Republican Presidential race. What's worse, he's doing so at the expense of nearly 800,000 residents," Dowling said in a written statement. "The people of Palm Beach and Broward counties, who live in District 20, deserve to have their voices heard in Congress before the end of this session."

Dowling, a West Palm Beach native, is among a handful of candidates who have already announced their plans to run for the congressional seat.

During a Friday morning news conference at the federal courthouse in West Palm Beach, Dowling laid out the lawsuit and called for a special election to take place this fall.

"A lot is on the ballot with this upcoming election, the problem is we don't know when that is," Dowling said Friday. "We want an election without delay."

He published the book "Still Invisible? Examining America's Black Male Crisis" in January 2020, which recently won the Florida Book Award.

Attorney Craig Lawson, who filed the lawsuit, said they are asking a court to force DeSantis to call the special election.

Florida Atlantic University political science department chairman Kevin Wagner said the law reads that a governor sets a date for special elections, but it does not say when.

Kevin Wagner
Florida Atlantic University political science department chairman Kevin Wagner says it might be time to address the ambiguity of Florida's laws concerning special elections.

Even if DeSantis called for a special election immediately, the Supervisors of Elections in the county would need time to get ready.

When Should A Special Election Be Called?

Specifically, within the law, there is no mention of a timeline when the governor of Florida must call for a special election.

Florida Statute 100.111 addresses what happens if a Congressional vacancy occurs:

"If a vacancy in office occurs in any district in the state Senate or House of Representatives or in any congressional district, and no session of the Legislature, or session of Congress if the vacancy is in a congressional district, is scheduled to be held during the unexpired portion of the term, the Governor is not required to call a special election to fill such vacancy."

Dowling said he believes the law is on his side since the vacancy in the seat occurred while Congress was in session with eight months still remaining.

"[DeSantis] is then therefore required to call the election without delay," Dowling said.

Recent Special Elections To Fill Congressional Seats

In the past 12 years, Florida held two special elections to replace congressmen who did not finish their terms in office.

U.S. Rep. Bob Wexler, D-Fla., announced in October 2009 he was resigning from office in January 2010, prompting then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist to call for a special election 23 days later. The 19th Congressional seat was promptly filled in April 2010 when U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla, won the special election.

Another special election occurred in 2014 when U.S. Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., died in October 2013, vacating the 13th Congressional seat. Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., called for a special election 12 days after Young's death. A primary was later held on Jan. 14, 2014. The position was vacant for five months before being filled in a special election by David Jolly, R-Fla., on March 11, 2014.

In these special elections, it took roughly three months before a primary and then five months for a special election to be held after the governor made the call.

As of Friday, it has been 24 days since Hastings died and DeSantis has not called for a special election to fill the seat.

DeSantis' press office did not return WPTV's emails seeking comment on this story.