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Florida’s high voter turnout raises bar for future ballot initiatives

File photo
File photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida voters overwhelming rejected a measure that would’ve made 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 make it on the ballot is equal to 8 percent of voter turnout in the last presidential election. John Sowinski, a citizen initiative expert with Consensus Communications, said historically, that number goes up — not down.

“Every time we have a presidential election we have a) more population [and] b) as of late much higher turnout," Sowinski said. “So that drives up the number [of signatures] that’s required" to get on the ballot.

Since 1970, the signature requirement for citizen initiatives has risen by an average of 12 percent every four years. Citizen initiatives had to collect 766,200 signatures in order to make it on the 2020 ballot.

After this year’s election, the requirement will rise by roughly 15 percent. Preliminary calculations indicate campaigns will have to collect an estimated 880,000 signatures to put their amendments on the 2022 ballot.

Make It Legal Florida’s proposed amendment to legalize recreational marijuana in Florida 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, who expressed confidence that the campaign will be able to meet the new threshold.

He said it’s the campaign’s goal to meet that requirement midway through 2021.

But more signatures likely means more money in play.

Sowinski estimates the projected signature increase will cost campaigns about $1 million more. “For a campaign that would already be spending $3-5 million to gather the signatures,” he said.

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.