Miami-Dade County

City attorney: Votes for Sarnoff won’t count in Miami election

Teresa Sarnoff
Teresa Sarnoff Courtesy of Teresa Sarnoff

There will be two names on the ballot when voters in Miami’s District 2 head to the polls Nov. 17 to select a new city commissioner, but only votes for Ken Russell will count, according to Miami’s city attorney.

In an opinion issued just hours after Teresa Sarnoff officially declared in a letter that she was withdrawing from the race, City Attorney Victoria Méndez indicated Tuesday that the city cannot halt the runoff election, but votes for Sarnoff will not be valid or publicized, essentially making Russell the city’s commissioner-elect.

The city is “bound by Florida Supreme Court precedent and Florida election procedures requiring that any votes for Teresa Sarnoff not be counted,” stated the opinion, prepared by assistant city attorney Forrest Andrews. “Although the cost of having a runoff election is seemingly unnecessary, absent new case law from the Florida Supreme Court, this law can only be changed by act of the Florida Legislature or the City Commission.”

Pursuant to Florida’s Division of Elections, the city will place a disclaimer at each poll and in each voting booth informing voters that there is already an elected candidate and that votes for the other candidate won’t count. Based on those guidelines, City Clerk Todd Hannon said the disclaimer won’t indicate which candidate is which.

The guidelines state that votes for Sarnoff should not be counted or publicized. Votes for Sarnoff, however, will be recorded by the county’s voting system and will not be destroyed. They are to remain publicly available to anyone who requests access to them.

Tuesday’s legal opinion should lend clarity to an election that became muddy last week when Sarnoff announced she was suspending her campaign because of Russell’s nearly 20-point lead heading into a runoff election, mandated when no one candidate earned more than 50 percent of the vote in the Nov. 3 general election. Russell continued to campaign for votes in the days afterward, and said Monday that he will campaign through Tuesday’s runoff election.

“The only way to create certainty on our side is to encourage voters to turn out,” Russell wrote in a text. “After such a decisive win, it’s a shame for the voters to be put in this situation and that the city does not have an adequate mechanism for a candidate to withdraw from the runoff. The process is broken on something that should be simple.”

Expect Miami’s Charter Review Committee to review the city’s process for handling the withdrawal of a runoff candidate. Sarnoff also has called for the city to consider voiding its requirement that a candidate receive a majority of votes to be elected, and instead allow for an election by plurality, something Russell says he doesn’t support.