After high-profile efforts in Florida to restore the voting rights of felons and ban greyhound racing, it could become much more difficult to make future changes to the state’s constitution. A political organization with mysterious backers has won approval by the Supreme Court to move forward with an effort requiring voters to approve future amendments twice.
Florida’s highest court issued an advisory opinion Thursday that a proposed constitutional amendment requiring future amendments to be passed by voters twice is eligible to be placed on the 2020 ballot. The court said the amendment can be placed on the ballot because it’s about only one subject and its title and summary are “written in clear, impartial language.”
The proposed amendment has met all requirements for the 2020 ballot, having received enough signatures in more than half of Florida’s counties and exceeding the required 766,200 total signatures by the Feb. 1 deadline.
Keep Our Constitution Clean, which proposed the amendment, was created in 2018. Its purpose is to “counter misleading proposals being placed in front of voters, while also being a voice in support of preserving Florida’s constitution for future generations,” said a statement from Sarah Bascom, the organization’s spokesperson.
The organization has raised more than $8 million from a non-profit group sharing its name, Keep Our Constitution Clean, Inc. The non-profit does not have to report its contributors under federal or state campaign laws. Its registered leaders are Jason Blank and Jason Haber, of Fort Lauderdale, and Matthew Meyers of Miami.
Activists involved in other petition drives believe the group is linked to the utility industry.
Keep Our Constitution Clean used a petition company called Let the Voters Decide to obtain signatures for the double vote ballot initiative.
According to documents obtained by Fresh Take Florida, Let the Voters Decide paid its workers as much as $18 per hour to collect signatures, with hefty bonuses based on the number of signatures. If circulators worked 40 hours per week and collected more than 750 signatures, they could earn up to $3,220, which is far more than other petition organizations pay.
The documents also contain a non-compete agreement for petition circulators from Let the Voters Decide. This means circulators who worked for the company could not collect signatures for ballot initiatives from other organizations.
Alex Patton, chair of Citizens for Energy Choices, said he believes Keep Our Constitution Clean was created to oppose his organization’s amendment to deregulate Florida’s monopoly utilities.
Patton said the high pay combined with the non-compete from Let the Voters Decide was a roadblock for his initiative. He said he believes it was designed this way.
Citizens for Energy Choices’ initiative was turned down by the Florida Supreme Court for the 2020 ballot for lack of clarity. However, Patton believes Keep Our Constitution Clean aims to continue to prevent his initiative from appearing on the ballot with new language.
Only Nevada currently requires amendments to be passed twice. Patton said it’s not a coincidence that Nevada rejected an energy choice amendment in 2018, which had received more than 60 percent of the votes in the previous election.
He said the utility industry is attempting to replicate its success in Nevada through the double vote amendment.
“It is crystal clear that the powers that be want to make the petition process impossible,” Patton said.
A 2016 episode of the “Years of Living Dangerously” documentary by National Geographic documents efforts by Florida’s utilities to block conservationist-backed amendments that would interfere with their business.
The citizens initiative process was created for Floridians to fight against vested interests that may be present in the legislature, according to Mark Herron, a Tallahassee-based attorney who specializes in elections. He said Keep Our Constitution Clean aims to make this process much more difficult.
Keep Our Constitution Clean said it aims to ensure voters understand the impact of the amendments they’re voting on.
“Educating voters on the impact of various constitutional initiatives and making sure that voters know exactly what they are voting on is a measure we believe all Floridians will support and we look forward to earning that support in November,” Bascom’s statement said.
The double election amendment, which will be Florida’s Amendment 4 for 2020, is one of three initiatives that have been cleared to be on the 2020 ballot. Amendment 1 would require all Florida voters to be citizens and Amendment 2 would increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026.
The proposed Amendment 3 has not been approved by the Florida Supreme Court yet, but if approved, it would create an open primary in which all candidates regardless of party would run in one primary for state offices, and the top two would compete in the general election.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.