Two amendments on the ballot this November offer voters the opportunity to decide the weight of a constitutional amendment.
Amendment 4, the most well-funded measure on November’s ballot, would require any Florida ballot measure passed in the future to be passed a second time in the next election before it takes effect.
Amendment 1 would change two words in the Florida constitution.
Sponsoring Amendment 4 is the Keep Our Constitution Clean PAC. Jason Zimmerman, the PAC chairman, said the amendment helps voters understand the impact of what a constitutional amendment is. As of 2020, ballot measures in Florida only need to pass one time with a 60% supermajority.
“We require two-step verification in a lot of things in our life,” he said. “We should make the people want to understand the gravity of what they're doing.”
Nevada is the only other state that requires constitutional amendments to be passed a second time. The state implemented the requirement in 1962. Nevada voters have passed 14 amendments since then, and of those, only two did not pass again in the next election. North Dakota is also voting on an amendment similar to Amendment 4 this November.
Zimmerman said the PAC used the $9 million raised in support of the amendment to collect signatures to get it on the ballot. None of the money is being spent right now, he said.
Amendments to Florida’s constitution should be foundational, Zimmerman said. He thinks most voters at the polls don’t give the time or thought needed for a constitutional amendment.
“When you're talking about the foundational document over government, I think you should be slow and careful in what you're doing,” he said.
Sometimes voters will either intentionally or accidentally leave things on the ballot blank. This is known as an “undervote”, according to a study done by MIT Election Lab. In 2018, voters skipped Amendment 2 at a higher rate when it appeared on the second page of the ballot as opposed to the first page, the study showed.
Many organizations oppose the amendment, including the League of Women Voters of Florida. In its official statement, the organization said the amendment would limit a citizen’s ability to engage in direct democracy.
In 2018, Alachua County overwhelmingly voted in favor of the amendment that gave ex-felons the right to vote in Florida. About 73% of the 116,172 ballots cast voted in favor of the amendment.
If Amendment 4 had been in place in 2018, the amendment that gave ex-felons the right to vote would have to pass again in 2020.
Those looking to get measures on the ballot in 2022 have taken notice of Amendment 4. Nick Hansen, the chairman of Make It Legal Florida, is working to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2022 that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana for anyone over the age of 21.
He said Amendment 4 is significant overkill, because the current process already requires arduous steps before an amendment even makes it onto the ballot, like obtaining over 750,000 signatures.
“I simply cannot wrap my head around a six-year campaign to amend our constitution,” Hansen said.
Suggesting voters are not sure about passing an amendment is an insult to voters, Hansen said. If elected officials needed to be elected twice, Florida would never move beyond any election, he said.
“The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl over the years,” Hansen said. “They didn't have to play a second game to prove that they really, really won the Super Bowl.”
While Amendment 4 focuses on amending the Florida constitution for only large-scale, foundational change, another amendment on November’s ballot is focused on just two words.
Amendment 1 is a measure to change the words in the Florida constitution from “every citizen of the U.S. who is 18 years old or older can vote in Florida” to “only a citizen of the U.S. who is 18 years old or older can vote in Florida”. Non-citizens are not able to vote in Florida, and this amendment doesn’t change that.
Pedro Malavet, a law professor at UF said the single word change in Amendment 1 does nothing substantial legally speaking. However, he is suspicious of the phrasing, because he said the change in wording is a symbolic nativist statement and seen as xenophobic. He said it also decommits people from what should be the right to vote and turns it to the narrative that voting is some sort of a privilege.
“Voting is a right, and the change in the wording changes the commitment to the right to vote into language that suggests that it’s more a privilege than a right, which is completely incorrect,” Malavet said.
Malavet said he worries that people who do have a right to vote currently may experience burdens or voter suppression from the change in wording. He said the wording could be interpreted to limit the right to vote, and result in strict voter ID laws and a lack of lingual diversity on ballots.
“Voting is now and has been always limited to United States citizens, and the change in wording can be used as an effective limitation to the right to vote, which is what I worry about,” Malavet said.
John Loudon, the chairman of the amendment’s sponsor organization, Florida Citizen Voters, argues the change could prevent cities from allowing non-citizens to vote, as some in other states have, according to the Tampa Bay Times. San Francisco allowed noncitizens, including those without legal status to vote in a school board race in 2018. No municipality in Florida allows this.
Jeremiah Tattersall, the 34-year-old chair of Alachua County Labor Coalition and UF alumnus, said Amendment 1 doesn’t actually do anything. Tattersall said the amendment really is a way to get Republican voters to the polls.
“It’s on there to encourage misinformed people that believe that non-citizens are voting or even able to vote,” Tattersall said. “I mean, there's no reason anyone should vote yes on this amendment.”
Anna Wilder is a second-year journalism major and the criminal justice reporter. She's from Melbourne, Florida, and she enjoys being outdoors or playing the viola when she's not writing.
Steven Walker is the Fall 2021 Editor in Chief of The Alligator. He has previously worked at the Orlando Sentinel; and has bylines in the Miami Herald, Associated Press and Florida Times Union. In his free time, he likes to take long walks with his dog Luna and watch his favorite sports teams, the Orlando Magic and the Green Bay Packers.