Groups race to meet Florida amendments deadline

Mailboxes take an important role this time of year. Christmas cards arrive and leave alongside sales ads trying to pry gift dollars from holiday shoppers.

For one Newberry organization, mail forms the key to its success.

Protect Human Life Florida is trying to gather 1 million Florida voter petitions by Christmas in order to place its amendment—which would protect all human life with a detectable heartbeat—on the November 2022 ballot. Those petitions will get sent to the organization for sorting.

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Volunteers open envelopes of different sizes to unfold petitions―some bi-folded, others trifolded and some not folded at all―and place them into stacks based on county.

Mark Minck, chairman of Protect Human Life Florida, explained that all the petitions must be organized by county and delivered to the supervisor of elections for each county.

“It’s a big state, it’s a wide state, it’s a long state,” Minck said in a recent interview on The Shepherd Radio. “And the challenge is getting the petition in front of enough people fast enough.”

Minck said some people imagine all the ballots being loaded into a truck and arriving in front of the state capitol in Tallahassee. But reality is a bit tougher, delivering hundreds of thousands of petitions to each county from which petitions were received.

In Florida, amendments to the constitution can arrive on the ballot through multiple paths. The Legislature can pass a potential amendment, or it can approve a proposal by the Constitution Revision Commission or the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission. Citizen groups can also collect voter signatures to get a measure on the ballot.

But all proposed amendments need 60 percent of voters to mark “Yes” on the ballot.

For the citizen initiative route, a proposed amendment needs signatures equal to 8 percent of Florida voters in the last presidential election.

In 2020, more than 11 million Floridians turned out for the presidential election, meaning a citizen initiated amendment needs 891,589 signatures. That number jumped more than 100,000 from the 2016 election.

On top of the higher voter turnout, the Florida Legislature passed a law that causes petition signatures to expire after two years. In the past, an organization trying to put an amendment on the ballot could roll the petitions gathered to the next election if they didn’t reach the benchmark 8 percent.

Now, if organizations fail to collect enough signatures within two years, it must start over with zero signatures.

Right now, as Protect Human Life Florida is trying to pass the Human Life Protection Amendment, other organizations are collecting signatures for 32 amendments on a whole range of topics.

Even though the threshold is 891,589, Minck wants to hit 1 million in order to guarantee the amendment. All petitions have to be verified by the supervisors of elections of each county.

Any voter signatures and information that can’t be verified can’t be used. The deadline for validation to join the November 2022 ballot is Feb. 1.

That’s why Minck and his team are trying to get the signatures by Christmas to eliminate the human error that is sure to occur along the way.

The Human Life Protection Amendment would add the following text to the Florida Constitution: All human beings have a right to life regardless of age, illness, or disability when there is a detectable heartbeat.

“It’s at least an attempt to do something in Florida constitutionally to circumvent the log jam that we see in Tallahassee on this issue,” Minck said.

Other amendments would, among other things, switch all of Florida’s general elections to rank choice voting, protect property from forced sales and prohibit captive hunting. Five different ones deal with marijuana.

Getting amendments through to the ballot involves big checks for some companies. Two gambling amendments trying for the 2022 ballot have garnered a combined $54 million dollars as backers try to collect signatures, Florida Politics reported.

Most of that money comes from out-of-state or big companies like FanDuel, Draft Kings, Las Vegas Sands and the Poarch Creek Indians of Alabama.

Minck and Protect Human Life Florida took a grassroots tact, opting for volunteers instead of millions upfront. The cost is lower, but you don’t have an army of signature collectors fanned out across the state.

One organization, FL5, tried to place five amendments aimed at conservation on the 2022 ballot. The group’s website says organizers did not reach the threshold and will try to pass the amendments one at a time, starting with a 2024 ballot amendment about clean water.

Two of the 33 active proposed amendments were added by the Legislature. One of those amendments would actually close a path to creating constitutional amendments—the proposal by the Constitution Revision Commission which meets every 20 years.

The amendment, the second one that will appear on the ballot, abolishes the commission. It passed the Florida Senate and House last spring.

All 31 other amendments, none of which have reached the target number of signatures, are citizen initiatives from around the state, including Newberry. The name thousands of Floridians have written on envelopes to send in another petition.

All active petitions are available to read online.

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