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Judge to decide on suit between Miami-Dade House candidates Joe Saunders and aunt 'Moe' Saunders

Former state Rep. Joe Saunders is challenging incumbent Fabian Basabe for Basabe’s House District 106 seat. Saunders’ aunt is now also on the ballot, under the name “Moe Saunders.”
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Former state Rep. Joe Saunders is challenging incumbent Fabian Basabe for Basabe’s House District 106 seat. Saunders’ aunt is now also on the ballot, under the name “Moe Saunders.”

TALLAHASSEE — With the November election less than four months away, a Miami-Dade County circuit judge plans to move quickly in an attempt by Democratic state House candidate Joe Saunders to prevent his aunt — running as Moe Saunders — from running for the seat.

Judge Robert T. Watson on Tuesday issued an order scheduling a final hearing Aug. 1 and said he is “mindful of the August 20, 2024, target date for final resolution (including any appeal) of the issues in this matter.” Primary elections will be held Aug. 20, setting the stage for finalizing the Nov. 5 general-election ballot.

Joe Saunders, a former lawmaker who is seeking to unseat Rep. Fabian Basabe, R-Miami Beach, in Miami-Dade’s House District 106, filed the lawsuit June 25 after his aunt, Maureen Saunders Scott, qualified to run for the seat without party affiliation.

The aunt, a resident of St. Johns County, roughly 300 miles from the district, would appear on the ballot as Moe Saunders.

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The lawsuit seeks to bar Scott from the ballot, alleging she improperly qualified to run as Moe Saunders to deceive voters and "siphon votes" from Joe Saunders. The lawsuit seeks to force elections officials to block her from the ballot.

“Contrary to defendant Scott’s sworn statements (in candidate filings) to the Department of State, she is not generally known by the nickname ‘Moe Saunders.’” the lawsuit said. “Defendant is known to friends and relatives as Mo, without an ‘e,’ a common shorthand for the name Maureen. In fact, she is known by the name Mo Scott, not ‘Mo Saunders’ – and definitely not ‘Moe Saunders.’”

In his order Tuesday, Watson identified the defendant as Maureen Saunders Scott but noted the name issue is unresolved.

“The court uses throughout this order the name of this defendant as listed in the complaint, which is not an indication of any determination of how her name should be listed on the ballot, if at all,” Watson wrote.

Scott faces a July 18 deadline for filing a response to the lawsuit, while Secretary of State Cord Byrd and Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections Christina White, who are also defendants, would file responses by July 25.

Trying to cut into a Republican super-majority in the House, Democrats have considered District 106 as a possible seat they can flip. Joe Saunders had raised nearly $177,000 for his campaign account as of June 28, while the separate Friends of Joe Saunders political committee had raised almost $114,000, finance reports show.

Basabe, who was first elected in 2022, had raised $31,424 for his campaign account but also had loaned $250,000 to his campaign. A Basabe-chaired political committee, known as Common Sense for Florida, had about $22,000 in cash on hand as of Friday, a finance report shows.

The numbers for the candidates and their committees also do not reflect money that parties or other committees might plow into the campaign.

Scott contributed $1,800 to her account in June but has not reported additional financial activity, according to information posted on the state Division of Elections website. Also running for the seat is Republican Melinda Almonte, who had raised $1,050 as of June 28 and loaned $23,200 to her campaign.

Scott does not appear to have an online campaign presence, but The Miami Herald reported last month that she has made public claims about Joe Saunders’ character.

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