Miami-Dade County

In Miami-Dade, voters agree to rewrite the county charter. New city vote fails.

A political group seeking a referendum on campaign finance delivered more than 100,000 signed petitions in August 2016 to the Miami-Dade Elections Department. That was enough to get the measure on the ballot, but it was tossed for legal flaws in the wording. The episode prompted a 2018 proposed charter amendment to require county lawyers to screen petition drives for legal flaws before they go out for signatures. It’s one of five charter amendments on the November ballot in Miami-Dade.
A political group seeking a referendum on campaign finance delivered more than 100,000 signed petitions in August 2016 to the Miami-Dade Elections Department. That was enough to get the measure on the ballot, but it was tossed for legal flaws in the wording. The episode prompted a 2018 proposed charter amendment to require county lawyers to screen petition drives for legal flaws before they go out for signatures. It’s one of five charter amendments on the November ballot in Miami-Dade. pportal@miamiherald.com

Miami-Dade voters approved all five of the proposed charter amendments, changes that make it easier for citizens to put ordinances on the ballot, allow county employees to run for office, and ban the payment of petition gatherers by the signature.

A cluster of voters who live in Northeast Miami-Dade narrowly rejected forming the county’s 35th city, with the referendum losing by about 100 votes with all precincts reporting. The collection of neighborhoods outside of Aventura with about 20,000 residents voted 50.8 percent to 49.1 percent against forming a new city out of what’s currently an unincorporated area.The results won’t be official unit Miami-Dade tallies mail-in ballots received on Election Day. About 6,200 people voted in the city referendum.

The proposed charter amendments mostly attracted little attention. But the one labeled County Referendum 5 drew opposition from Miami-Dade Commission Xavier Suarez, whose political committee funded ads warning the new measure was designed to foil voter recalls of elected officials.

Suarez, joined by billionaire activist Norman Braman, said banning the per-signature payment incentive would make it much harder to gather the number of petitions required to put a recall on a ballot. Backers, including the League of Women Voters and Mayor Carlos Gimenez, called the ban on per-signature payments as eliminating an incentive for petition gatherers to forge names or be overly aggressive in persuading voters to sign.

Referendum 5 does not ban paying petition gatherers, but bars groups from tying their compensation to the number of signatures obtained.

The signature-payment measure passed by a wide margin with about 95 percent of Miami-Dade’s precincts reporting, 67 percent to 33 percent.

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Miami-Dade voters also adopted:

County Referendum 1: Should Miami-Dade switch the elected office of clerk of the Circuit Court from a partisan post to a nonpartisan post? Unlike the holder of every other county office — mayor, commissioner, property appraiser — the clerk is elected through a partisan primary, with candidates designated as Republican, Democrat, etc., on the ballot. Current clerk Harvey Ruvin has held the post for 26 years as a Democrat, and he supports the proposed switch to a nonpartisan office, where all candidates would compete in a single primary. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers would compete in a runoff election. It was passing 61 percent to 39 percent.

County Referendum 2: Should Miami-Dade lift its rule requiring county employees to take leaves of absence while running for office and quit if they win? The proposed change would narrow the existing rule to only cover Miami-Dade employees running for county office.

Under the new amendment, county employees could run for federal, state or city offices without having to take leaves from their Miami-Dade jobs and stay employed by the county if they win. The existing rule involving employees running for county commissioner, mayor or other offices within Miami-Dade government would still apply. It passed 56 percent to 44 percent, the narrowest margin for the five countywide questions.

County Referendum 3: When citizens want to pass an ordinance by referendum, should the county’s lawyers issue a legal opinion on the proposed law before organizers take it to a petition drive?

This charter change stemmed from a pretty heated controversy in 2016, when liberal groups sought a referendum to enact a new campaign-finance ordinance for Miami-Dade. The groups gathered enough signatures before the August deadline, only to have county lawyers reveal legal flaws that allowed Miami-Dade to keep it off the ballot.

Miami-Dade lawyers issue their legal opinion on proposed petition drives ahead of the County Commission vote approving measures for the ballot. At that point, commissioners are voting only on whether the proposal is legal. The current rule puts that vote at the end of the process, once the language is locked in and signatures have been gathered.

Under the proposed amendment, the legality question would be settled ahead of the petition process — a timeline that should give backers the chance to tweak wording issues before the commission vote. It passed 61 percent to 39 percent.

County Referendum 4: Should Miami-Dade drop a candidate from a race if he or she dies? Miami-Dade already does, and the proposed change would continue that practice. In fact, this charter change would simply ratify rules Miami-Dade already follows.

If a candidate dies during a campaign — as former El Portal mayor Daisy Black did in 2016 while running against incumbent Commissioner Audrey Edmonson — he or she is dropped from the race. Even when incumbent commissioner Juan Zapata withdrew from his 2016 race after ballots were printed, the Elections Department notified voters that Zapata was no longer a candidate and that votes for him wouldn’t be counted.

A county task force that recommended the change said it would eliminate “uncertainty” about some scenarios not addressed in the charter, such as when a candidate dies in the middle of a runoff election between the top two finishers in a nonpartisan primary. It was passing 70 percent to 30 percent.

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