Florida Supreme Court Upholds Non-Partisan Elections for Orange County Constitutional Officers

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School Board Chair Teresa Jacobs celebrates ruling, as Tax Collector Scott Randolph and Property Appraiser Rick Singh are defeated.

In a landmark decision, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the will of Orange County voters to hold non-partisan elections for county constitutional officers, including clerk of the circuit court, comptroller, property appraiser, sheriff, supervisor of elections, and tax collector. However, their ruling struck down the portion of the ordinance regarding the timing of elections involving more than two candidates for the same office.

A statement issued by School Board Chair Teresa Jacobs in her former capacity as Orange County Mayor celebrated the ruling. This battle began when three constitutional officers, who are Democrats, challenged the validity of the ordinance: Tax Collector Scott Randolph, Property Appraiser Rick Singh, and even current Orange County Mayor and former Sheriff Jerry Demings.

“Today is a great day for Orange County voters and voters across the state who believe that they should be able to decide how local county constitutional officers are elected,” Teresa Jacobs said after the ruling.

The ruling is definitely also a big win for Jacobs, who championed the will of Orange County voters and held firm throughout the challenge from her Democratic rivals. The challenge was indeed political in nature, attempting to reverse the ballot question approved by voters in order to benefit Democratic candidates at the county level – candidates like Randolph, Singh and Demings. 

On Aug. 19, 2014, the Orange County Board of Commissioners enacted an ordinance giving voters an opportunity to decide if they wanted to amend the Orange County Charter to provide for term limits and non-partisan elections for the six county constitutional officers – clerk of the circuit court, comptroller, property appraiser, sheriff, supervisor of elections and tax collector.  Nonpartisan elections are currently held for Orange County commissioners, school board members, all city council members throughout Orange County and judges. In Orange County, there are 130,000+ more registered Democratic voters than Republican voters. Identifying party affiliation on the ballot in partisan races would seem to benefit Democrats locally.

The ballot question appeared on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot and passed by 71 percent. 

After the election, the trial court upheld the portion of the charter amendment providing for term limits, but struck down that portion providing for nonpartisan elections. On appeal, the Fifth District Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the trial court.

In November of 2016, the Orange County Charter Review Commission placed essentially the same question on the ballot and it passed again, this time by 70.5 percent. An organization created by the same three elected Democrats that challenged the 2014 vote of the citizens, also challenged this charter amendment. Randolph’s efforts had failed once again.

Orange County, Florida appealed the ruling of the Fifth District Court of Appeal (regarding the 2014 referendum) to the Florida Supreme Court. This issue is finally resolved. 

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