Republican claims opponent’s primary loss fraudulent in Florida election

One of the state’s six open seats at the end of the term will play a key role in determining control of the House of Representatives

The Republican candidate running to fill the Florida U.S. House seat being vacated by Republican congressman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has sued to have his rival’s primary loss erased, for fraud.

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Lee County circuit court alleges that Barbara Comstock defrauded voters by spending millions of dollars of her campaign cash on advertising ahead of the 5 June primary.

The two candidates are battling for the seat left open by Ros-Lehtinen, who served as a Republican in Congress for more than 24 years.

Ros-Lehtinen, who received 54% of the vote in the primary, will retire at the end of the term.

A Democratic takeover of the district, where both sides are fighting hard to win a majority of the vote, will play a key role in determining control of the House of Representatives.

Court records show the Republican candidate, Jorge Barreto, did not enter the race until May 28, after Comstock had announced she would seek the seat.

According to the lawsuit, Barreto spent less than $15,000 on his campaign in Florida – which should have disqualified him from the ballot.

Barreto claims that despite having collected 5,909 valid signatures to secure his spot on the ballot, 4,020 of them were “null and void” because of the alleged violations.

The Republican nominee is seeking to have the election fraudulently declared null and void, claiming Comstock spent a “considerable amount of the votes obtained by way of fraud on advertising and canvassing for her campaign.”

The dispute will be reviewed by a state elections board, which will hear evidence on 19 July, according to the Miami Herald.

The Comstock campaign, who did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment, said it was “surprised” at the suit.

“This is just a waste of taxpayer money,” said Ed Rollins, the Comstock campaign manager, in an interview with the Miami Herald. “In a democracy, what you do in politics has consequences for generations and we want to win. I think Comstock has won but I think she has a long way to go to win this race and to win an election in the future.”

Ros-Lehtinen, who joined her party in voting for the trade deal between the US and Pacific Rim countries last week, has endorsed Comstock’s opponent, according to the Miami Herald.

“She is a great and proven legislator who brings her smart, confident personality to the district every day,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

The battle for Florida’s representative will be one of several close Republican elections in August, including races for the House in Kentucky, Kansas, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

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