Polk County elections chief agrees to make races partisan following demand letter from state lawyer

Election 2022 Florida
Some local races, including for Supervisor of Elections, were previously nonpartisan.

Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards is conceding to the Florida Department of State on partisan elections after the agency threatened legal action in a Friday letter.

Edwards, a former Democratic state House member, had previously refused to hold partisan races for some local seats, including her own, but reversed course Friday, after the top lawyer for the state elections authority wrote to Edwards. 

The Florida Department of State “will be forced to bring an action to enforce the performance of your duties in accordance with the Florida Election Code,” wrote Joseph Van de Bogart, general counsel at the agency. 

In a brief response also dated Friday, Edwards agreed to conduct partisan contests for the seats at issue.

“I’m glad the issue is resolved,” Edwards told Florida Politics on Monday. “I am happy to comply with the Secretary of State’s directive.”

Edwards had previously labeled two constitutional-office races nonpartisan on the county elections website: the Supervisor of Elections race between herself and Republican State Rep. Melony Bell and the Property Appraiser race between Polk County Commissioner Neil Combee and Gow Fields

Van de Bogart’s letter says the non-partisan classification was made despite Bell’s intention “to seek a party’s nomination.” Bell, a Republican, is running against Edwards in a county where Republican Governor Ron DeSantis fetched nearly two-thirds of all votes last year. 

The demand letter from the Department of State followed a Florida Politics story detailing Combee’s push to make certain races partisan in Polk County, including the Property Appraiser seat for which he is running. 

Combee had cited precedent from the Florida Supreme Court to support his position. The case, Orange County v. Singh, held that the Florida Election Code requires partisan races and therefore it preempted a provision in Orange County’s charter stating otherwise. 

Edwards, meanwhile, relied on a provision in the Polk County charter that required all constitutional-officer elections to be nonpartisan. Such offices include the Property Appraiser position and the Supervisor of Elections seat, along with other positions including Clerk of Courts, Sheriff and Tax Collector. 

In his letter to Edwards, Van de Bogart recognized that there is an apparent conflict between the Polk charter and the state law. But he too cited Orange County v. Singh as binding authority that the Polk charter is preempted. While that case presented facts specific to Orange County, the justices for the majority appeared to rule broadly. 

“The Florida Election Code contemplates partisan elections for most offices, and it does not specifically authorize otherwise for county constitutional officers,” the Court wrote. 

A previous version of this story did not include Lori Edwards’ response to the Department of State. 

Danny McAuliffe

Danny is a contributor at floridapolitics.com. He is a graduate of Fordham Law School and Florida State University, where he served as the editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau. Reach him at [email protected].


  • tom palmer

    August 6, 2023 at 5:40 pm

    That clears things up. What these challenges are really about besides partisan politics is a couple of career politicians seeking to position themselves to increase their state pensions by gaining higher salary offices.

  • It's Complicated

    August 7, 2023 at 2:28 pm

    Given that Edwards was a Democrat in the Florida House, it will be interesting to see which party she picks to run on in her now-GOP-leaning Polk County. She is a ‘local’ and has been an elected official down there for three decades, so her party may not matter to voters.

  • Karen Welzel

    August 9, 2023 at 9:46 am

    And there it is…the Gop (and the CCDF, among others) are now focused on the rest of Polk County. They’ve already consumed the Lake Wales and Ft. Meade Commissions, and the County Commission, and are infiltrating the School Board. Now they will take over the Constitutional officers, most of whom were doing a good job, in non-partisan elected positions for years. Sure, we knew their political leanings, but they were PUBLIC SERVANTS, not political puppets. Better wake up, Polk County! It won’t end here, especially with DeSantis still around.

  • EyesWideOpen

    August 9, 2023 at 8:20 pm

    Now that DeKlantis is clearly not going to be the GOP nominee for POTUS, you can bet the farm that the fascist and his party of cultists, will do everything they can to eliminate term limits for Governor, so that he can run another rigged election and “win” it.

Comments are closed.


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