'Slower, longer, more expensive': Tougher slog coming for constitutional amendments in Florida
Increasing the number of signatures needed is just one reason.
A record-setting turnout for the presidential election has raised the bar for groups hoping to get a proposed state constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2022.
That's in addition to a new law raising the signature threshold on an already cumbersome petition gathering process.
"It will mean a slower, longer and more expensive path," said Steve Vancore, a political consultant who worked on the All Voters Vote campaign in 2020.
The group spent over $8.5 million and collected 1.1 million signatures to make sure it got the 766,200 certified petitions needed to earn a place on the Nov. 3 ballot. But it failed to get the minimum 60% of the vote in the general election needed to become part of the state's constitution.
Vancore, who's now advising groups trying to get on the ballot in 2022, said they are going to have to start collecting signatures at least a month sooner than they did last time around. Here's why:
Getting on the ballot — State law requires that groups seeking to get amendments on the ballot collect enough signatures to equal 8% of the total votes cast in the previous presidential election. That includes 8% of the totals in half the state's current 27 congressional districts.
Based on the 2016 presidential election results, the state set the threshold for getting a citizen initiative on the ballot at 766,200 signatures — 8% of the 9 million cast.
Because of the 11 million votes cast in Florida for the Presidential election, the number of signatures needed to get on the 2022 ballot will increase to around 885,000.
The actual threshold will be determined after the presidential vote is certified by Secretary of State Laurel Lee next week.
Judicial review — For the 2020 ballot, groups needed to collect 10% of the total required verified signatures to trigger a judicial review of the ballot amendment's language, or 76,620 signatures in at least a quarter of the state's congressional districts.
But because of changes made by the Legislature in the spring (SB 1794) and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis into law, for 2022 those groups will need to collect 25% of the total required to get on the ballot, or 221,283 signatures, in at least half the districts.
"We were very opposed to that legislation," said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. "It's already extremely difficult to get a citizen initiative on the ballot and costs millions of dollars."
Getting signatures 'will not be inexpensive'
According to the state Division of Elections website, about 20 different citizen initiatives are already queued up for 2022.
Fortunately, for Make it Legal Florida, they already met the judicial review threshold for its "Adult Use of Marijuana" ballot initiative. It had originally aimed for 2020 but decided to go for 2022 last spring, after collecting just over 555,000 signatures.
Those signatures will be grandfathered in, but the challenge will be to get at least 300,000 new signatures, said Nick Hansen, who chairs Make it Legal Florida. "It will not be inexpensive," he said. The group spent $8 million to get the signatures it already collected.
To be clear, he sees no problem collecting the additional signatures. "We collected those first 500,000 signatures in a very short time," Hansen said.
More uncertain is whether the ballot language will pass judicial review. The group had previously met its judicial review threshold last November, and their petition is pending review by the Florida Supreme Court.
The Attorney General, Florida Senate and House leaders have challenged the ballot language as unconstitutional, but Hansen thinks it will be approved. "Once we get the ruling from the Supreme Court that the ballot language is good, we're off to the races," he said.
Contact Jeff Schweers at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.
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