Our analysis of ballot questions: Florida voters made right choices
It has become obvious during the past couple of weeks that Florida voters faced a daunting task when they cast their ballots in this year’s general election, whether they did so early or waited until Election Day Nov. 6.
Contested seats seemed to dominate the lengthy ballot that ran to a total of four long pages just in Palm Beach County alone. Since the first ballot counts, razor-thin margins between candidates’ results have allowed undecided political races to endure while election officials conduct recounts and fend off lawsuits from office seekers.
Since Election Day, newspapers, TV, radio and cable television broadcasts have been dominated by reports of battles over vote totals, lawsuits demanding that “every ballot be counted,” even though officials in Broward and Palm Beach County seem unable to do that, and ongoing troubles with the voting process in Broward and Palm Beach counties that provoked Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to order an investigation.
It’s likely that as you read this column, there are still undecided contests left from the Election Day vote count.
Florida’s electorate also cast ballots on 12 referendum questions, but the results of these seem to have been overshadowed by the races that remain up in the air.
Many of these referenda involve important issues, and it’s a shame they have gotten such scant coverage. We aim to rectify this by reporting the outcomes of these ballot queries and analyze the impact of voter decisions on them.
A total of 12 questions faced voters – numbered 1 through 13, with Question 8 struck from the ballot. We’ll deal with the first five questions in this column and the final seven in next week’s report. We hope this exercise will help you understand the direction being taken via these policies that were either accepted or rejected by voters. Here goes.
The 12 constitutional amendments that appeared on this year’s ballot were the most since 1998 when the state’s Constitution Revision Commission — which meets once every 20 years — put nine of 13 amendments on the ballot. After convening this year, that panel positioned eight amendments for voter consideration.
To be approved, any constitutional amendment had to receive positive votes from 60 percent of those who cast ballots.
Amendment 1, a proposed increase in homestead property tax exemption, failed. Had it won, it would have raised the homestead property exemption by $25,000 for homes worth more than $100,000. Currently, homes valued at more than $75,000 can get a maximum tax exemption of $50,000 through homestead.
The shift could have saved homeowners a couple of hundred dollars, but a legislative staff analysis estimated that local governments — which rely on property taxes for revenue — would lose about $645 million in the first year if the exemption were approved. And, of course, when governments fall short of cash, they turn to the population and increase taxes.
The “no” vote saved property owners from entering a vicious taxation loop.
Amendment 2, another property tax proposal referred by the legislature, was approved. It places a 10 percent cap on the annual increase of non-homesteaded property tax amendments so exorbitant hikes don’t impact renters, business owners, and consumers.
Amendment 3, voter control of gambling in Florida, a citizen-initiated amendment, was adopted. As a result, voters now have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize expansions of casino gambling in Florida. In the past, the voters and the state legislature shared the right to move forward with gambling.
Card and casino games and slot machines are limited to tribal facilities in most of Florida, though some slot machines are allowed at certain pari-mutuel facilities in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Though the legislature has tried in recent years to pass gambling bills that would address the state’s agreement with the Seminole Tribe and allow for some expansion of casinos, negotiations have repeatedly broken down as the House, which is more opposed to gambling, rejected Senate proposals.
Amendment 4, the voting restoration amendment, another petition-driven amendment, was approved. That means the voting rights of former felons who have completed parole and probation may be restored. This does not include convicted murderers and sexual offenders.
For the past seven years, the state has required felons to wait at least five years after their sentences are complete to file an application to restore their voting rights.
Adoption of the amendment may be snarled by an ongoing legal battle. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in March struck down the vote restoration system for felons as so arbitrary as to be unconstitutional, but the state won a stay of his injunction as an appeal goes to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
Amendment 5, the super-majority vote required to impose, authorize, or raise state taxes or fees, was also approved.
This is another proposal referred by the legislature that would require a two-thirds super-majority vote of lawmakers to impose, approve or raise state taxes and fees. The higher threshold means it would take only a third of members in either the state House or Senate to block any future tax increases or repeal existing exemptions.
Next week’s column will examine the remaining seven ballot questions which were all proposed by the Constitution Revision Commission.