Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade must hold partisan elections for sheriff, court clerk, Supreme Court says

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, left, and Harvey Ruvin, clerk of the courts, have a conversation during a 2018 meeting in the County Commission chambers. In 2018, Miami-Dade voters approved making the clerk a nonpartisan post, like the office of county mayor, but a recent Florida Supreme Court ruling invalidates that change.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, left, and Harvey Ruvin, clerk of the courts, have a conversation during a 2018 meeting in the County Commission chambers. In 2018, Miami-Dade voters approved making the clerk a nonpartisan post, like the office of county mayor, but a recent Florida Supreme Court ruling invalidates that change. rkoltun@miamiherald.com

Miami-Dade is scrapping plans to keep party labels off the ballot next year for the clerk of court election, and will require partisan contests for sheriff and other newly elected offices if Florida law doesn’t change by 2024.

The county’s top lawyer wrote last week that a recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court forces Miami-Dade to hold partisan primaries for the 2020 clerk election.

That ruling will also require partisan primaries for sheriff, tax collector and elections supervisor once those posts shift from appointed to elected by 2024, as required by a new amendment to the Florida Constitution. But with Miami-Dade a heavily blue county, there’s more time for state lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature to change the law to allow nonpartisan contests for those offices.

On April 18, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Orange County could not hold nonpartisan primaries for offices established by the Florida Constitution and required by state law to appear on a November general ballot.

For nonpartisan posts, counties hold primaries for all candidates in August and the races are decided in November only if a runoff is required because nobody received more than 50 percent of the primary vote.

“Until state law is amended to permit the county constitutional office of Clerk of Courts to be elected on a non-partisan basis,” wrote Miami-Dade County Attorney Abigail Price-Williams in an Aug. 7 memo, “Miami-Dade County should conduct the election for Clerk of Courts on a partisan basis.”

Miami-Dade voters are supposed to approve nonpartisan elections for the three offices currently held by appointees under Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Those are sheriff, tax collector and elections supervisor.

While those officials are elected in most counties, in Miami-Dade the mayor holds the power of each office and delegates them to appointees approved by the County Commission. They’re elected posts in most counties, and Florida’s new Amendment 10 requires all counties to elect the posts by 2024.

The Price-Williams memo said the Supreme Court ruling does not currently affect the county post of property appraiser, which is elected through nonpartisan primaries. Because that office was established under Miami-Dade’s charter, Price-Williams said it could retain nonpartisan status for now. The Miami-Dade mayor and county commissioners are also elected in nonpartisan primaries, and those offices weren’t affected by the ruling, either.

But the nonpartisan status of the property appraiser could be short-lived, too. Amendment 10 requires all Florida counties to elect their appraisers by 2024 as well. Once that provision kicks in, the appraiser post will be treated like clerk and the other offices. That would require partisan primaries for appraiser, too.

In March, commissioners approved sending a referendum to county voters next year approving nonpartisan elections for those posts. If Florida doesn’t change the law, those posts would have to be decided by partisan primaries, no matter what local voters decide, according to the county attorney’s office.

Last month incumbent clerk Harvey Ruvin, a Democrat, filed to run for his eighth term as clerk. Even though Miami-Dade Democrats outnumber Republicans by a wide margin — 600,592 voters registered as Democrats in the county, and 378,223 as Republicans — Ruvin endorsed the 2018 charter referendum shifting the office to a nonpartisan post. The referendum passed 61 percent to 39 percent.

Ruvin said he won’t challenge the legal opinion from the county, but would have preferred to run in a nonpartisan race. As clerk, he oversees the county’s court system and much of its legal framework, including the filing system for ordinances passed by the Miami-Dade commission and the offices where people pay parking tickets.

“I look at the clerk’s role as a neutral party having control of the public record,” Ruvin said Monday. “I think it’s in our DNA to be a trusted, neutral party.”

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