It will be a lot harder to put proposed constitutional amendments on the 2022 ballot in Florida.
Heavy turnout in this year’s election and a new law that seeks to limit ballot initiatives have driven up the number of petition signatures that groups will have to submit to get on the ballot in 2022 and to trigger crucial reviews by the Florida Supreme Court.
Groups will have to submit 891,589 valid signatures to put issues on the ballot, up from 766,200 signatures to reach the 2020 ballot, according to information posted on the state Division of Elections website. Maybe more important, they will need to submit 222,898 signatures to receive what can be make-or-break Supreme Court reviews, up from 76,632 in 2020.
Republican lawmakers, who have taken a series of steps to make it harder for backers of ballot initiatives, passed a controversial bill this year that included raising the number of signatures needed to spur Supreme Court review.
On Friday, the Senate filed a document at the Supreme Court that cited the new signature requirement to try to bolster a months-long attempt to scuttle court review of a proposed constitutional amendment that would expand Medicaid coverage.
Backers of the proposed amendment originally planned to try to put the issue on the 2020 ballot and submitted 90,420 signatures — enough to receive Supreme Court review. They later decided to focus efforts on the 2022 ballot, and the Senate contends they need to reach the new threshold of 222,898 signatures to move forward with the review.
In the document filed Friday, Senate attorneys pointed to the 90,420 signatures submitted by Florida Decides Healthcare, a political committee behind the proposed amendment, and said the amount is “well short of the revised threshold.”
But Barry Richard, an attorney for Florida Decides Healthcare, argued in an April document that the Legislature “moved the goal posts” after the initiative qualified for Supreme Court review. He contended that the new law was not retroactive, effectively meaning that review should occur based on the initiative meeting the old threshold.
The Supreme Court plays a critical gatekeeper role in deciding whether ballot initiatives go before voters. It reviews the wording of proposed initiatives and determines whether they meet legal standards, such as not being misleading and not lumping together multiple subjects.
In the April document, Richard highlighted the importance of the Supreme Court review, describing the requirement of submitting hundreds of thousands of signatures to get on the ballot as “daunting and expensive.”
“An early advisory opinion from this (Supreme) Court indicating that an amendment meets constitutional and statutory requirements is a great benefit to a sponsor in its efforts to raise the funds and otherwise garner public support necessary to achieve ballot position,” the document said. “Conversely, an opinion indicating that an amendment is not valid avoids the risk to the sponsor of spending large sums of money to pass an amendment only to have it declared invalid after passage, and enables the sponsor to correct the defects if it desires to try again.”
The overall number of signatures needed to place constitutional amendments on the ballot is based on a formula that equates to 8 percent of the votes cast in the most-recent presidential election.
With 11,144,855 votes cast in the Nov. 3 election, that translates to 891,589 signatures needed to get initiatives on the 2022 ballot — up from the previous 766,200 signature requirement, which was based on turnout in the 2016 election.
That 8 percent requirement is part of the Florida Constitution, but the threshold for Supreme Court review is set by lawmakers. In the past, initiative supporters had to submit signatures equal to 10 percent of the overall requirement and meet varying signature requirements in a quarter of the state’s congressional districts — leading to the past 76,632-signature requirement for court review.
But under the new law, that 10 percent requirement jumped to 25 percent, with varying signature requirements in half of the congressional districts. That means 222,898 signatures will be needed, according to the Division of Elections website.
Along with the Medicaid expansion proposal, another potential 2022 ballot measure that has drawn heavy attention is an initiative that would allow people to use recreational marijuana. The Supreme Court heard arguments in May on that proposal but has not ruled. Backers of the marijuana proposal had submitted 555,276 valid petition signatures as of Monday morning, the Division of Elections website shows.