Editor’s note: To cover this year’s 11 proposed constitutional amendments, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting partnered with nonprofit political money tracker MapLight and eight of Florida’s NPR member stations. This radio story is the first in a series by FCIR reporter/blogger Ashley Lopez airing on Florida’s NPR member stations before Election Day. For detailed information about each of this year’s ballot measures, check out the FCIR-MapLight project Voter’s Edge Florida.
INTRO: In November, Floridians will decide the fate of 11 ballot measures.
Typically, one of the ways these changes to the Constitution get on the ballot is through citizen petitions.
Voter’s Edge Florida
Almost every presidential election, groups gather thousands of signatures hoping Floridians will vote for their issue.
But this year, not a single measure came from a citizen-led drive.
In fact, all 11 proposed Constitutional Amendments came from state lawmakers.
WLRN’s Ashley Lopez tells us why.
Robin Rorapaugh of Hollywood is the president of a political consulting company that helps groups who want to get an issue on a ballot.
She says she’s worked on a lot of ballot initiatives in the state through the years.
“My very first campaign in Florida was running the three part ballot initiative for the ‘Save our Everglades campaign…”
All three parts of that ballot initiative passed in 1996.
Because of that citizen-led ballot initiative, Florida’s Constitution now says the state has to tax sugar to pay for Everglades restoration.
It also added language that says polluters have to pay to clean up any mess they make in the Everglades—and it set up a fund for restoring those wetlands.
But Rorapaugh says it was easier back then for someone like her to get something like that done.
“Up until about I would say 8 years ago, it was a fairly simple initiative process. You would file with the secretary of state with your ballot language, print the petitions up and go out and gather your signatures.”
Rorpaugh says since the mid-90s a lot of rules have changed.
In that time, the state Legislature has cracked down on citizen petitions.
“The manner of collecting signatures has been highly regulated by the Legislature, down to a signature gatherer has to sign the page. They have made the time limit for petition gathering much tighter now. At one point, you could gather signatures for petitions for years and years waiting to go on the ballot. Now I believe you have 36 months from beginning to end.”
Rorapaugh says these changes have made it harder for non-profits and citizens like her to propose amendments.
But there is another way of changing language in the state constitution…
Florida lawmakers can actually change it themselves.
All they need to do is get their constitutional amendment passed in both chambers by a supermajority.
Damien Filer works with a left-leaning grassroots organization in the state called Progress Florida.
He has also worked for many years on citizen-led ballot initiatives and is an expert on direct democracy.
He agrees with Robin Rorapaugh that through the years it’s gotten much more difficult for citizens to change the constitution.
But he says it’s also become easier for the Legislature to change it.
“So, the way that it works in the Legislature is that they do require a 3/5’s supermajority to place something on the ballot, but the fact of the matter is we have a supermajority of one party control in both houses of the Legislature anyway. So, most things pass by an overwhelming supermajority in the Legislature. So, it really does make the bar very low for something to be placed that way.”
Filer says that’s why there’s a whopping 11 amendments on the ballot this November that were put there by the Legislature alone.
“I think this is the first time we have seen in a while where there really isn’t that sort of access, direct access, to our democracy by the citizens themselves.”
Local election officials warn that due to the 11 amendments, this year’s ballot will be one of the longest in history.
I’m Ashley Lopez in Hollywood.