Would a Democrat or Republican make a better Miami-Dade sheriff? It might not matter

Even before Miami-Dade voters elect a sheriff for the first time in generations, they’ll get to decide whether to make the post nonpartisan.

On Tuesday, county commissioners unanimously approved a ballot question for 2020 to make future elections for sheriff, tax collector and elections supervisor nonpartisan contests.

Under a new amendment to the Florida Constitution, Miami-Dade must elect each of those positions by 2025. Miami-Dade is the only county without an elected sheriff, and most counties already elect their election supervisors and tax collectors, too. Florida voters adopted Amendment 10 in November.

State rules generally require partisan elections for the posts, but the Florida Supreme Court in January upheld Orange County’s decision to let voters make the offices nonpartisan. Miami-Dade’s legal department was following the case closely, since a similar countywide ballot item that passed in November shifted Miami-Dade’s county clerk position from partisan to nonpartisan.

With the Supreme Court weighing in, Miami-Dade moved forward with a similar approach for the new set of elected posts. The county stopped electing sheriffs in the 1960s, shifting to an appointed police chief who now serves as a department head under the mayor. Now the county plans to hold a sheriffs election in 2024.

A bipartisan group of county commissioners sponsored the amendment for nonpartisan elections in a county where Democrats outnumber Republicans. It passed without discussion.

“Once you’re elected, there’s a segment of the population that has a negative feeling about you if you have that letter next to your name,” said Stephen Simeonidis, chairman of the county’s Democratic Party. “It’s much easier to reach across the aisle if there is no aisle.”

“At the local level, things aren’t very partisan,” said Nelson Diaz, chairman of the county GOP. “When you take partisanship out of it, things get easier.”

The county resolution that passed Tuesday sends a ballot item to voters on Election Day in November 2020, asking whether the three posts should be selected by nonpartisan primaries in 2024 and beyond. It also asks voters to confirm existing practice for nonpartisan elections for property appraiser, which already is a nonpartisan elected post in Miami-Dade.

In nonpartisan county contests, all candidates compete in the same August primary. The top two finishers compete in a November runoff if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the primary vote.

Miami-Dade mayor and commissioners already compete in nonpartisan contests, as does the county property appraiser. The clerk was the last county office to be partisan until the November ballot item passed. It was supported by the current clerk, Democrat Harvey Ruvin.