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Columbia County Observer

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Florida Supremes Nix 15 Words in County Charter Rest of Charter OK - Elections Are Going to Change

Lake City Reporter: Lake City's Mainstream Media Runs Fake News Headline

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The April 18, 2019, Florida Supreme Court decision, Orange County, Florida vs. Rick Singh, has affected the way the County runs its elections for the Superintendent of Schools and its Constitutional Officers: Clerk of the Courts, Property Appraiser, Sheriff, and Tax Collector.

Background: Charter - Elections

On November 7, 2016, the County Charter was amended to read:

"5.2.1 Non-partisan offices. The County Commissioners, the County Attorney, the Superintendent of Schools and the County Constitutional Officers shall be elected on a non-partisan basis."

The Columbia County Charter is approximately 5,953 words. These 15 words: "Superintendent of Schools and the County Constitutional Officers shall be elected on a non-partisan basis," are problematic according to County Attorney Joel Foreman.

Supreme Court decision

Mr. Foreman, in an extensive memo sent to various county officials and the media, weighed in on the recent Florida Supreme Court decision, Orange County, Florida vs. Rick Singh (Singh). The non partisan election requirements for the County Constitutional Officers and the Superintendent of Schools have just become a thing of the past.

County Attorney Joel ForemanMr. Foreman wrote, "According to Singh, the portions of this provision calling for the nonpartisan election of the County Constitutional Officers and Superintendent of Schools are both in conflict with and preempted by the FEC [Florida Election Code]."

Charter section 5.2.2 (b), the parts of which deal with non-partisan election procedures of Constitutional Officers also must get the axe according to Mr. Foreman.

Section 5.2.2 (b) states in relevant part: "If any candidate for such office receives a majority of the votes cast for such office in the first primary election, the name of the candidate who receives such majority shall not appear on any other ballot unless a write-in candidate has qualified for such office."

It also gives a whole bunch of details regarding all non-partisan candidates, majority votes, and who goes to the general election ballot.

Mr. Foreman wrote that section 5.5.2 (b) "appears to be completely preempted as to County Constitutional Officers by the analysis in Singh."

The Bottom Line

Mr. Foreman opined, "[It's] in the public interest to conduct the County’s elections in a manner that is consistent with the Florida Constitution and the holdings of the Florida Supreme Court."

He concluded his remarks, "It is my recommendation that election of County Constitutional Officers, as well as the Superintendent of Schools as provided by the FEC [Federal Election Code] under the analysis of the Singh court, should be completed through a partisan election process with [the] election occurring via the general election rather than the primary date." [abridged]

Epilogue: It's Florida

The rest of the County Charter, so far, is intact and not "unconstitutional."

Two little lines in millions of lines in the FL statutes threw the Superintendent of Schools into the mix: "§ 99.061(2), Fla. Stat. (candidates for county offices may qualify for nomination or election by filing the qualifying papers and paying “the filing fee and election assessment, and party assessment”); and § 100.41(1), Fla. Stat. (“In each county, a clerk of the circuit court, sheriff, superintendent of schools, property appraiser, and tax collector shall be chosen by the qualified electors at the general election in each year the number of which is a multiple of 4.”). [quotes directly from Singh]

Columbia County will be changing the way it elects its Constitutional Officers and School Superintendent at the next general election.

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