Florida Special District Handbook Online:
Elections

Special districts may have appointed or elected governing body members, or a combination of appointed and elected governing body members. This section summarizes two ways special districts may elect their governing body members:

  1. Popularly Elected Systems
  2. One-Acre / One-Vote Electoral Systems.

Popularly Elected Systems

  • The registered voters elect candidates.
  • Majority decision prevails, unless general law provides otherwise.

Excluding water management districts created and operating under Chapter 373, Florida Statutes, and community development districts established under Chapter 190, Florida Statutes, special districts with popularly elected governing bodies must comply with the following requirements:

Dependent Special District Requirements

Single-County Independent Special District Requirements

  • May choose to have the County Supervisor of Elections conduct their elections following the same requirements for dependent special districts (see above).
  • May choose not to have the County Supervisor of Elections conduct their elections, in which case, they must timely report the following to the County Supervisor of Elections:
    • Election Purpose
    • Election Date
    • Election Authorization
    • Election Procedures
    • Election Results

Multicounty Special District Requirements

  • With the exception of special districts conducting elections on a one-acre/one-vote basis, candidates qualify with the Department of State, Division of Elections.
  • The elections are nonpartisan, unless the special district's charter allows partisan elections.
  • Candidates qualify pursuant to Chapter 99, Florida Statutes - Candidates.

One-Acre / One-Vote Electoral Systems

The charters of some independent special districts require their governing bodies to be elected under an election system called the one-acre/one-vote system. Under this system, landowners have one vote for each acre of land they own within the special district's boundaries. As the special district grows in population, they may begin going to a system where some government board members are popularly elected and some governing body members are elected under this one-acre/one-vote system. This section summarizes how this process works.

All independent special districts required to elect governing body members on the one-acre/one-vote system must follow specific election requirements. However, the following special districts are exempt from these requirements:

  • Single-purpose water control special districts created and operating pursuant to Chapter 298, Florida Statutes, pursuant to a special act, a local government ordinance, or a judicial decree.
  • Community development districts established pursuant to Chapter 190, Florida Statutes.

Terminology

The following terms apply to this section:

  • Governing Body Member is a duly elected member of a special district's governing body meeting the following conditions:
    • If elected by popular vote, is also a qualified district elector
    • If elected on the one-acre/one-vote process, has been elected as a supervisor as the next section describes
  • Qualified Elector is any person who meets all the following conditions:
    • Is at least 18 years old
    • Is a United States citizen
    • Is a permanent resident of Florida
    • Is a freeholder or freeholder's spouse
    • Is a resident of the special district registered with the supervisor of elections of a county in which the special district lands are located when the registration books are open
  • Urban Area is any contiguous developed, inhabited, and reasonably compact urban area located entirely within a special district that meets one of the following conditions:
    • Based on the latest official census, special census, or population estimates, it has at least an average resident population density of one and one-half people per acre.
    • It has a minimum density of one single-family home per two and one-half acres with access to improved roads.
    • It has a minimum density of one single-family home per five acres within a recorded plat subdivision.

Initial Landowners' Meeting

Within 20 days after a special district's creation date, the special district must publish a notice of a landowners' meeting so they can elect three supervisors to the special district's board. The notice must meet the following requirements:

  • Any requirements set forth in the special district's special act.
  • Clearly state the meeting's date, time and place, which must be held in a public place in the county in which most of the special district is located.
  • Appear once a week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in each county in which the special district is located.
  • The last publication date must not be less than ten nor more than fifteen days before the meeting date.

At the initial meeting, the following must be accomplished:

  • The landowners must elect a chair and secretary of the meeting to oversee the election of the three members to the board of supervisors.
  • The office term of each supervisor elected must be determined, based upon the number of board members elected (see section 189.041, Florida Statutes - Elections; special requirements and procedures for districts with governing bodies elected on a one-acre/one-vote basis - Governing Body - Term of Office, Paragraph (3)(b)). The supervisors will serve until their successors have been elected and qualified.
  • The chair and secretary must conduct the initial election of the governing body. The three supervisors must be composed of landowners in the special district and residents of the county or counties in which the special district is located. The owners and proxy holders of special district acreage who are present at this meeting will constitute a quorum for holding this election or any other election after that.
  • At the election, every acre of land in the special district represents one share.
  • Landowners are entitled to one vote in person or by proxy in writing duly signed, for every acre of land they own in the special district. The appointment of proxies must comply with section 607.0722, Florida Statutes - Proxies.
  • Landowners owning less than one acre in the aggregate are entitled to one vote.
  • Landowners with more than one acre are entitled to one additional vote for any fraction of an acre greater than one-half of one acre, when all of the landowners' acreage has been aggregated for purposes of voting.

In addition, the following voting conditions apply concerning who may vote:

  • The Florida Department of Environmental Protection may designate someone to vote if the state owns any acreage in the special district and that acreage is subject to an assessment by a water control district.
  • Guardians may represent their wards.
  • Executors and administrators may represent estates of deceased people.
  • Officers or duly authorized agents may represent private corporations.

The three people receiving the highest number of votes will serve as the elected supervisors.

Annual Landowners' Meeting

If ten-percent or more of the special district is not contained in an urban area, special districts must do the following:

  • The board of supervisors must call for an annual landowners' meeting every year in the same month after the first board of supervisors' election. The governing body must designate this date within the month before the month of the meeting.
  • Provide notice of the annual meeting using the same process used for the initial landowners' meeting.
  • Elect at least one supervisor on the one-acre/one-vote basis. Fifty-percent of the special district acreage is not required to constitute a quorum. Each governing body member must be elected by a majority of the acreage represented by landowners or by proxy.

If the landowners fail to elect the supervisor, the Governor will appoint the supervisor. This supervisor will hold office for three years or until his or her successor is qualified and elected. If a vacancy occurs in any office of supervisor that the landowner's elect, the remaining supervisors, within 30 days of the vacancy, must appoint someone to fill the vacancy until the next annual meeting. If the supervisors fail to do this, the Governor may appoint someone to fill the vacancy. At the next annual meeting, the landowners may elect a successor to the unexpired term. The Governor may remove any elected or appointed supervisor for malfeasance, misfeasance, dishonesty, incompetency, or failure to perform the duties imposed upon him or her, then appoint someone to fill that vacancy when practicable.

Referendum on Elections for a Popular Election

Each special district with a governing body elected on a one-acre/one-vote basis must call for a referendum to decide whether certain members of its governing body should be elected by qualified electors (popular election). This cannot occur until each of the following conditions has been satisfied at least 60 days before the general or special election at which the referendum will be held:

  • The special district has a total population of at least 500 qualified electors, according to the latest official state census, a special census, or a population estimate
  • At least ten-percent of the qualified electors of the special district signed a petition calling for a referendum. This petition is on file with the special district's governing body, and the County or Counties Supervisor of Elections in which the special district is located.
  • The Supervisor(s) of Elections has, within 30 days after receiving the petition, verified the number of signatures from the qualified electors. The Supervisor(s) of Elections has certified to the special district's governing body whether at least ten-percent of the qualified electors petitioned for the referendum. If, the Supervisor(s) of Elections verifies that at least ten-percent of the qualified electors petitioned for a referendum, then the special district's governing body must call for a referendum election at the earliest of the following dates:
    • The next regularly scheduled election of governing body members if this will occur at least 30 days after the verification
    • Within six months of the verification

Popular Elections Disapproved

If the qualified electors disapprove a popular election procedure at the referendum election, the special district may not hold any further referendum on the question for at least two years following the referendum. The method for electing governing body members must be one of the following:

  • Continue pursuant to the special district's enabling legislation
  • Continue as previously described under Initial Landowners Meeting and the One-Acre/One-Vote Process

Popular Elections Approved

If the qualified electors approve a popular election procedure at the referendum election, the special district must increase its governing body members from three members to a total of five members. The special district must do this by holding popular elections in the future, where qualified electors elect the governing body members at large. These elections are nonpartisan. The qualifications of the governing body member candidates must comply with the Florida Election Code and must occur during the appropriate qualifying period. The first of these popular elections must begin at the earliest date of the following:

  • The next regularly scheduled election of governing body members after the referendum approval and final unappealed approval of special district maps that show the urban areas within the special district
  • At a special election called within six months after the referendum approval and final unappealed approval of special district maps that show the urban areas within the special district

Governing Body Compositions and Office Terms - Creating and Approving the Maps

To create and approve the maps that show the urban areas within the special district, the following must occur:

  • Within 30 days after approval of the popular election process, the special district's governing body must designate urban areas within the special district and prepare maps of the special district showing the extent and location of these urban areas. While designating urban areas, special districts must follow these requirements:
    • Obtain assistance from all local general-purpose governments having jurisdiction over the area within the special district
    • Do not use publicly owned parks, right-of-ways, highways, roads, railroads, canals, utilities, bodies of water, watercourses, or other minor geographical divisions of a similar nature to separate an area from being defined as an urban area
  • Within 60 days after approval of the popular election process, the special district staff must present the maps that show the urban areas to the special district's governing body
  • Within 30 days of presenting this map to the special district's governing body, any special district landowner or qualified elector can contest the accuracy of the maps. If this happens, the special district's governing body must request the county engineer to prepare maps of the special district describing the extent and location of all urban areas within the special district
  • Within 30 days of the special district's request to prepare the maps, the county engineer must present the maps to the special district's governing body. Then, the special district's governing body must compare both sets of maps and begin deciding which set to adopt. The special district's governing body may amend the maps if necessary.
  • Within 60 days after the county engineer presents the maps, the special district's governing body must complete and adopt official maps at a regularly scheduled board meeting
  • Within 30 days of the official map adoption, any special district landowner or qualified elector may contest the accuracy of the adopted urban area maps by petitioning the circuit court with jurisdiction over the special district. The circuit court must hear any petitions expeditiously. The maps must either be approved as is or approved with necessary amendments to render the maps accurate. The maps must be certified to the special district's governing body.

After the special district's governing body adopts the maps or the court certifies them, the maps will become the official maps of the special district. At least every five years or sooner, at the discretion of the special district's governing body, the special district must update and readopt the maps.

After the special district's governing body adopts the official maps, they must begin preparing to order the next regularly scheduled election of governing body members by doing the following:

  • Use the maps to figure out what percentage of the special district contains contiguous developed urban areas as compared with the total area within the special district. Using this percentage and the table below, determine the number of governing body members the qualified electors will elect by the following two methods:
    • The Popular Election Method
    • The One-Acre/One-Vote Principle

Within 45 days of any vacancy occurring in a seat occupied by a popularly elected governing body member, the remaining governing body members must appoint an eligible person to hold the office for the remainder of the unexpired term. Future elections must occur at the next regularly scheduled election closest in time to the expiration term date of the current elected governing body members. If that date is beyond the normal term expiration time, the governing body member must hold office until the election of a successor.

Governing Body Compositions and Office Terms
Urban
Area Percent
Governing Body Members Elected by Qualified Electors
(Popularly Elected)
First Election Term When Elected By Qualified Electors First Election Term When Elected By Qualified Electors First Election Term When Elected in Accordance with the One-Acre/One-Vote Principle
0 - 25% One Four Years Four One for One Year
One for Two Years
One for Three Years
One for Four Years
26 - 50% Two Four Years Each Three One for One Year
One for Two Years
One for Three Years
51 - 70% Three Two for Four Years
One for Two Years
Two One for One Year
One for Two Years
71 - 90% Four Two for Four Years
Two for Two Years
One One Year
91 - 100% Five Three for Four Years
Two for Two Years
None, since Landowners' meetings are no longer necessary Not Applicable

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