A jury is in place to begin the first day of the ‘ghost candidate’ trial, which involved Seminole County GOP Chair Ben Paris. 

Paris is one of five accused in a ghost candidate scheme in Florida.

What You Need To Know

  • Ben Paris is implicated in the trial, that alleges he funded a fake candidate using his cousin's name

  • "Ghost candidates" occur when a candidate doesn't actually run for office, with the intent of drawing voters away from another candidate

  • Republican Jason Brodeur won the election with 300 votes

According to our partners at the Orlando Sentinel, Paris’ case pertains to a highly competitive state senate race in 2020 involving his former boss, Republican Jason Brodeur, Democrat Patricia Sigman and a mysterious independent Jestine Iannotti, the alleged ghost candidate.

Paris faces misdemeanor charges for funding Iannotti’s campaign using his cousin’s name, Steve Smith. Iannotti’s alleged role was to siphon votes away from Sigman.

Brodeur won that race by a slim margin of over 300 votes, and Iannotti received over 4,800 votes during that election.

Dr. Terri Susan Fine, UCF Political Science Professor, says ghost candidates don’t campaign or intend to take office but they still get votes because those behind ghost candidates focus on getting some voters to support them, usually those who pay very little attention to politics.

“Another avenue for ghost candidates to succeed is among those who are weakly affiliated with their parties and are willing to cross party lines,” Fine said.

Fine also said sometimes voters make leaps based on a candidate’s party affiliation or their name or gender on a ballot.

“They may make the connection ‘oh, I’m interested in women’s issue. Here’s someone who may be more inline with that issue’,” she said.

Even though Iannotti didn’t campaign, advertisements painted her as a progressive, consultants funded those advertisements with close connections to Florida Power and Light, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Fine said these ghost candidates’ situations occur mostly in local elections because most people aren’t aware of candidates for state legislature.

“The only way a ghost candidate can gain traction is through voter ignorance,” she said.

Fine said the best thing voters can do to prevent voting for a ghost candidate was to stay informed such as using the supervisor of election’s website to research who makes donations to each candidate, how they’re spending money, and research the endorsements.

It’s unclear who would’ve won the election if Iannotti didn’t run but, elsewhere in Florida, a ghost candidate named Alex Rodriguez pleaded guilty in a similar scheme to elect Republican Ileana Garcia.