Florida State Attorney Angela Corey and Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda address the media on July 13, 2013, after a jury in Seminole, Fla., Circuit Court acquitted George Zimmerman of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Gary W. Green-Pool/Getty Images

The Florida state attorney’s election in the 4th Judicial Circuit has taken an unexpected twist, with the high-profile race, featuring the ever controversial Angela Corey as incumbent, suddenly becoming closed to non-Republican voters. 

The election is now set to be decided by about 320,000 registered Republicans in the district during the primary because of a candidate who qualified to run as a write-in with the help of a senior staffer from current State Attorney Angela Corey’s campaign, the Florida Times-Union reports.

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The move has proved disastrous for the remaining 440,000 registered voters who will not be allowed to cast ballots in the Aug. 30 primary because they are either registered Democrats or have no party affiliation. 

Corey’s campaign manager, Alexander Pantinakis, reportedly said that when he helped local attorney Kenny Leigh file the qualifying papers to become a candidate, he was acting as a Republican Party state-commitee member, not as Corey’s campaign manager.

All three of the named candidates on the ballot are Republican. According to Florida law, if all the candidates in a race are of the same party, all registered voters can vote in the primary to give the opposition a voice. Although Leigh is a Republican, what his qualification as a write-in candidate does is create a space on the November general-election ballot where voters will have the option of writing in his name. That space on the general-election ballot technically creates a voice for the opposition, thus limiting the August primary to Republicans.

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The move effectively disenfranchises the black population, since at least 96 percent of black voters in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, which make up the circuit, are not registered Republicans. It also sets up Corey, the favorite, to regain her seat, since whoever wins the primary will effectively win the seat.

And, as the Times-Union notes, the other candidates are furious. 

“I believe Kenny Leigh was designed to close the primary,” attorney Melissa Nelson, who is running as a Republican, told the site. “A prosecutor’s obligation is to seek justice. There is no place for gamesmanship.”

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“I’d like to see Mr. Pantinakis placed under oath, along with Mr. Leigh, to find out who actually signed what, and whether or not Corey gave her blessing,” the third and final Republican candidate in the primary, attorney Wesley White, added. 

Leigh, who has previously donated to Corey’s campaign, told the site last week that Corey had nothing to do with his entering the race, and he did not know who Pantinakis was. 

Advocacy groups are also speaking out against Leigh’s entry into the race as a write-in.

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“When a campaign worker of a high-ranking election official closes a primary so voters of opposing political parties can’t participate, we know our democracy is in trouble,” Mone Holder, New Florida Majority policy director, said in a press release. “Elected officials should be above reproach. They should clear barriers to the ballot box; not create them. This is a core American value; one which Angela Corey and her team don’t appear to share.”

“When it comes to voting, Florida has a horrible history of disenfranchising communities of color,” Advancement Project Executive Director Judith Browne Dianis said. “Given the millions of African Americans who are barred from voting due to past felony convictions, it’s unconscionable that Corey’s campaign would go out of their way to keep other African Americans from participating in the primary.”

Corey’s track record has been under intense scrutiny ever since the botched prosecution of George Zimmerman in 2013, who fatally shot unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in 2012. She also handled the case of Marissa Alexander, who was jailed for firing a warning shot at her husband when he allegedly became abusive toward her, and came under sharp criticism after refusing Alexander’s release.

Read more at the Florida Times-Union.