Days after the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Amendment 10 will remain on the ballot, advocates for the measure are taking their arguments directly to the voters.
Proponents, including several constitutional county-level officers and sponsors of the amendment, announced Wednesday they have launched a statewide education initiative to encourage voters to approve Amendment 10, which among several changes would require five county-level officers (including sheriffs) to be elected in every county.
Though most counties already elect those positions, eight —including Broward and Miami-Dade — do not require elections for some of those roles or have changed the positions' responsibilites. Miami-Dade in particular voted decades ago to eliminate its elected sheriff position and appoints a police director instead.
"We're not appointed. We are the people's choice in our individual counties," said Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter, who also serves as president of the Florida Sheriffs Association. "That's a right I think needs to be preserved so that the citizens of Florida can choose who they want to represent them and who they want to answer to them."
The amendment's advocates — which include already-elected county sheriffs, clerks of the court and property appraisers — said they are running a "grassroots campaign," including speaking at events to promote the measure and holding several press conferences in Tampa, West Palm Beach and Orlando in the next week. The push is also expected to include some radio spots, op-eds in local newspapers and mailers that will be distributed in areas including South Florida, they said.
Opponents have said the change, which other voters in the state could approve by the necessary 60 percent even if Miami-Dade voters don't agree, would violate the county's home rule charter. But proponents say that requiring elections statewide would return accountability for those roles to voters, and that the measure is not intended to repeal the charters of those counties that have them.
Amendment 10 was one of several ballot items proposed by the Commission (which meets once every 20 years) to be contested up to the state's highest court this year. Last week, the justices handed down rulings on four of those amendments, striking one dealing with charter schools, but inoculating the rest from any future ballot challenges.
Amendment 10 in particular links four proposals, including one that would move up the state's legislative session to January rather than March in even-numbered years, another that would create a counter-terrorism office and one that would make the existing state veterans affairs department constitutionally required. But the most sweeping proposal would require five county-level offices —including tax collectors, sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections and clerks of circuit court — to be elected in every county.
That change would principally affect eight counties, all of which are governed by charters that currently allow them to make changes to how they can fill certain county roles. Six of those counties — Brevard, Broward, Clay, Duval, Orange, Osceola — have changed how positions like county clerk are filled or operated and would have to revert if the amendment is passed.
Volusia County does elect its sheriff but divides responsibilities between the department of public safety and the department of corrections. The requirement for the office of sheriff also singles out Miami-Dade, which has an appointed police director instead after voters chose at the ballot box four decades ago to do away with the sheriff position. (The vote to get rid of the office followed allegations of rampant corruption at the time that led to the indictment of then-Sheriff T.A. Buchanan. Buchanan was acquitted. The job, by voter referendum, was not.)
But today's voters have not had a chance to weigh in on having an elected sheriff since that decision, said Martin County Clerk of the Court Carolyn Timmann, who sponsored the constitutional officers proposal in the Constitution Revision Commission. (The Legislature had tried at least twice in 2015 and 2017 to require elections for these county-level constitutional offices, though neither effort succeeded.)
Timmann also argued that South Florida's disproportionately large population means the amendment needs some of their support to meet the 60 percent statewide threshold needed to pass.
"It's time to ask them again and see what they want," Timmann said. "It's time."