This year, every proposed change to our state's Constitution placed on the ballot came from the state Legislature.
Experts and activists say that this is because getting an amendment on the ballot in Florida is harder than ever before for citizens, yet significantly easier for state lawmakers.
What Happened to Citizen-led Petitions?
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,” she says.
All three parts of that ballot initiative passed in 1996. Because of her ballot measures, 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.
However, 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,” she says.
She said it was as easy getting filing your measures with the secretary of state, then gathering 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,” Rorapaugh says. “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.
Tallahassee's Ballot Measures
Even though it has gotten harder for citizens to change the Constitution, it's gotten much easier for state lawmakers.
All state legislators 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,” Filer says. “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.
Local election officials warn that due to the 11 amendments, this year’s ballot will be one of the longest in history.
“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,” Filer says.
This story is part of a collaboration with the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. For more information on this year's ballot measures-- including endorsements, explanations and funding-- go to Votersedge.org.