High election turnout raises the bar for future citizen initiatives

Published: Nov. 13, 2020 at 3:45 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) - Florida voters overwhelming rejected a plan to make it harder to amend the state constitution this year, but the near-record turnout means it will still be harder to get an amendment on the ballot in the coming years.

The number of signatures a citizen initiative needs to collect to make it on the ballot is equal to eight percent of voter turnout in the last presidential election.

Citizen initiative guru John Sowinski with Consensus Communications says, historically, the number goes up, not down.

“Every time we have a Presidential Election we have A.) more population, B.) as of late, much higher turnout. So that drives up the number that’s required,” said Sowinski.

Since 1970, the signature requirement for citizen initiatives has risen by an average of 12% every four years.

Citizen initiatives had to collect 766,200 signatures in order to make it on the 2020 ballot.

After this election, the requirement will rise by roughly 15%.

Early calculations suggest campaigns will have to collect in the ballpark of 880,000 signatures to get amendments on the 2022 ballot.

Make It Legal Florida’s proposed amendment to legalize recreational marijuana is best positioned to make it on the 2022 ballot, having already collected more than 550,000 signatures.

“Obviously we knew going into 2020 that this was going to be a high turnout year,” said Make It Legal Florida Chairman Nick Hansen.

Hansen said he’s confident they’ll be able to meet the new threshold.

“It is our hope to be done with this by mid-2021,” said Hansen.

But more signatures means more money.

Sowinski estimates the projected signature increase will cost campaigns about $1 million extra.

“For a campaign that would already be spending three to five million dollars to gather the signatures,” said Sowinski.

On top of the increased signature threshold, recent laws also limit signatures' validity to two years and require paid petition gatherers to register with the state, making direct democracy in Florida harder and more expensive than ever before.

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