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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Ballot initiatives face year-end goal for petitions

31

December

With the end of 2015 in sight, groups pushing ballot initiatives for the 2016 election are up against the clock.

The fates of constitutional amendments legalizing medical marijuana and reaffirming existing, utility-friendly solar energy laws could be decided in the coming hours.

For both groups, Dec. 31 represents a crucial deadline by which they hope to submit all the petitions required to be on the ballot. County election supervisors aren’t required to count petitions received after that point.

It takes 683,149 petitions, signed by registered voters, to make the ballot in 2016. They must include support from 8 percent of voters in 14 of Florida’s 27 congressional districts.

Both Consumers for Smart Solar — the solar group funded by the state’s major utility companies — and United for Care — the medical marijuana group funded by lawyer John Morgan — say they have gathered more than 1 million petitions.

Still, they continue to solicit support from donors and petition signers.

There are two reasons for that: It’s expensive to pass a constitutional amendment, which requires 60 percent of the vote. And they might need more signatures.

Even with more than 1 million petitions apiece, the campaigns cannot guarantee that 683,149 of them will be ruled valid by election administrators. Petitions get thrown out for all sorts of reasons: a signer isn’t registered to vote or isn’t registered in the right county, a signature doesn’t match the one on record with the county, the petition is a duplicate of one already submitted.

And the requirement that half the state’s congressional districts makes it even more difficult.

That said, here’s where the campaigns stand in verified signatures as of 4 p.m. Thursday. There could be any number of petitions waiting to be counted in election supervisors’ offices or not yet submitted by the campaigns.

United for Care: 466,584 signatures, including the minimum required in four congressional districts.

Consumers for Smart Solar: 530,770 signatures, including the minimum required in six congressional districts.

In 2014, the first constitutional amendment to make it onto the ballot didn’t do so until Jan. 17, so there’s plenty of time for the totals to hit 683,149.

The Florida Supreme Court approved the ballot language for medical marijuana earlier this month. Justices still need to decide on Consumers for Smart Solar. Another solar initiative which earlier this year was on track to appear on next November’s ballot, Floridians for Solar Choice, has turned its focus to 2018.

What remains for Consumers for Smart Solar and United for Care is to wait. And to prepare for election season campaigns.

[Last modified: Thursday, December 31, 2015 4:04pm]

    

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