Updated:LAKE COUNTY, Fla. —
A major policy change designed to improve the experience at the Lake County Fair isn't going over well with local political candidates.
For the first time ever, candidates aren't allowed to roam the fairgrounds campaigning for voters' support.
Candidates have to get hundreds of petition signatures before they can run for office, and the fair used to be the perfect place to get it done.
"This is the most valuable opportunity that a candidate has," Mike Levine, Republican party chairman, said.
Levine believes county fair managers are stepping on politicians' free speech. During election years, many candidates regularly go to the Lake County Fair for petition signatures.
"Candidates ought to be able to distribute their petitions and get their petitions signed at the fair," Levine said.
But 2014 is the first year that fair officials decided to ban the roaming political campaigning.
"It just wasn't customer-friendly," fair manager Happy Norris said.
Norris said in past years, too many Republicans and Democrats harassed fair patrons while trying to get petition card signatures.
"We talked, we asked, we begged and we pleaded. They just would not follow the guidelines, so we chose to eliminate the candidate card signing," Norris said.
The Republicans are so upset, they've boycotted the county fair and don't have a booth there. The Democrats still reserved a booth this year.
Levine believes campaigning at the fair is supposed to be an honored tradition.
"Think about American history. Back in the old days, that's exactly how people connected. That was the only way possible to get the word out," Levine said.
The new fair guidelines state that candidates can only get signatures at their booths.