Bundling amendments makes it more difficult for voters to decide
Floridians are facing one of the longest and most confusing ballots in a generation.
Outside of electing officials like Senators and a new governor among others, voters this election cycle will be voting on 12 direct amendments to the Florida Constitution, covering topics from taxation to offshore oil drilling and vaping.
While the length is daunting, perhaps more concerning is the bundling that occurred with three amendments. Combining unrelated topics ultimately hurts voters and Florida — it corners voters into debating their priorities and harms Florida by lumping together potentially good and bad policies.
The question of bundling is specific to one of three possible ways of putting an amendment on Florida’s ballot. The first, legislative proposals, and second, citizen initiatives, are exposed to a single subject rule, meaning they can only discuss one topic and propose changes to that topic.
The third way comes via the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), a group approved by Florida voters in the 1960s. Once every 20 years, the group convenes to directly place amendments on the ballot and on every occasion it’s met, the CRC has bundled amendments. In 2018 CRC Chair Carlos Beruff argued that bundling shortens ballots and helps voters.
The trade-off of a mildly shorter ballot in exchange for bundled amendments is a poor one, especially given that topics don’t even have to be mildly related.
For example, Amendment 9 proposes a ban on offshore oil drilling and a ban on workplace vaping. For voters like myself, this will pit concerns for the environment against the belief that workplaces can decide for themselves whether to permit vaping or not. This goes without saying but what does vaping have to do with oil-drilling?
An example of something more concerning than either offshore drilling or vaping is found in the Amendment 11 bundle. The amendment includes lines that would prohibit undocumented citizens from owning property. However, it also includes the retroactive application of changes to criminal law meaning, for example, if recreational marijuana were legalized then people imprisoned for marijuana charges would be able to appeal and reduce their sentences.
People will be simultaneously voting on criminal justice reform policy as well as immigration policy. For many partisan voters, supporting one of these policies will likely mean opposing the other. A vote either way will force questions of priorities and values.
The only way to fix the problems of bundling is by making major structural changes to the way that Floridians decide policy. The simplest fix: the CRC should be subject to the single topic rule. We shouldn’t give bodies like the CRC, which voters have no guaranteed direct contribution to, exceptions to rules that elected groups and citizens must follow.
In the long-run, Florida should consider more drastic changes. By allowing citizens to propose legislation, as opposed to limiting them to constitutional amendments, we could circumvent this election madness and enhance the citizen voice in Florida.
Aida Vazquez-Soto is senior majoring in political science.