Non-partisan elections backed for Orange County officials

In a 4-3 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court on Friday upheld a voter-approved change that requires Orange County constitutional officers to be elected in non-partisan races.

The ruling overturned a 5th District Court of Appeal decision in 2017 that said state law governed such issues and blocked non-partisan elections for the clerk of circuit court, comptroller, property appraiser, sheriff, supervisor of elections and tax collector.

Voters in 2014 supported revamping the Orange County charter to include non-partisan elections, but constitutional officers challenged the change in court.

Justice Peggy Quince, in a majority opinion joined by justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Jorge Labarga, wrote that “we find that the Florida Election Code does not expressly preempt Orange County’s home rule authority to determine that constitutional officers be elected in a general election without partisan affiliation.”

But Justice Ricky Polston, in a dissent joined by Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Alan Lawson, said the majority “blatantly disregards the language” of the state election code.

“(By) banning a candidate for county constitutional office from running by party or seeking nomination by party, the ordinance directly conflicts with the Florida Election Code,” Polston wrote.