With just one month until the Feb. 1 deadline for submitting signed petitions, citizen initiatives with eyes set on making the 2020 ballot are racing against the clock.
Two key ballot initiatives — one to legalize recreational marijuana and another to ban assault weapons — are turning to one of the most expensive and unconventional ways to gather signatures: pre-addressed, mail-in petitions.
The petitions come pre-filled with a voter’s name, address and voter registration number, and can be sent back to the campaigns free of charge.
In order to make it onto the ballot for the 2020 election, the campaigns must collect 766,200 signed petitions, including a specified amount from every congressional district.
Make it Legal Florida, a campaign to legalize adult use of recreational marijuana, has spent more than $945,700 on mailers alone. The vendor they use — GOP consulting group Election Management Solutions — has run campaigns for a range of clients like President George W. Bush, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.
The campaign, funded primarily by medical marijuana companies MedMen and Parallel (which does business as Surterra) collected just 28% of the total signed petitions needed to make it onto the ballot. The language was sent for Supreme Court review on Dec. 20.
Ban Assault Weapons Now has spent more than $17,700 on printing, though it’s unclear if the money was spent on mailers alone. The campaign has collected just 17% of the total signed petitions needed to make it onto the ballot. The language was sent to the Supreme Court for approval in July.
Patti Brigham, president of the Florida League of Women Voters and committee member of Ban Assault Weapons Now, said the mailers are just an example of how important it is to “make the public aware that this initiative is critical to the safety of all Floridians.”
She said while they are trying to remain optimistic, they plan on continuing the campaign into the next election cycle if they don’t make it to the 2020 ballot.
“We’re just doing anything we can to get petitions signed,” she said.
The citizen ballot initiative campaigns are facing a harder year than most, she said, as they are operating under a new law that restricts the process.
The new election law, which was tacked onto a tax-cut bill as an amendment during the chaotic final days of the 2019 legislative session, requires that ballot initiatives pay petitioners by wage or hour, not by signatures gathered, making the process more expensive.
It also requires that gatherers — who must be registered as an in-state petition circulator with the Secretary of State — turn in petitions to supervisors of elections within 30 days of being signed, and disclose whether out-of-state signature gatherers were hired. The rule also requires that ballot language include the name of the initiative’s sponsor and the percent of money raised by sources in-state.
If the proposal includes a negative financial impact on the state or local economy, a statement indicating such must be printed in bold print on the ballot.
Also printed onto the ballot will be the Supreme Court’s ruling determining whether the proposed amendment could be carried out by the Legislature. A 50-word “position statement” from any interested parties either for or against the proposal will be posted on the Department of State’s website.
Republican lawmakers have steadily made it more difficult to amend Florida’s Constitution, including limiting the amount of time a group has to collect signatures and raising the threshold for an amendment’s passage to 60%.
Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody has already said she opposes both initiatives. On the recreational marijuana initiative, she told the Supreme Court in a brief that because marijuana is illegal federally, adults will not be “permitted” to “possess, use, and buy marijuana” in Florida, as the ballot language states.
She also opposes the proposed assault weapons ban, calling the language “deceitful and misleading.”
Some campaigns have already come to terms with a harsh truth that they won’t make it onto the 2020 ballot. Regulate Florida, another recreational marijuana ballot initiative, announced recently that it would not likely gather enough signatures and has decided to end its campaign. The initiative, which advocated for not only recreational use of marijuana but also the right to grow the plant at home, had collected only 92,540 valid signatures as of Dec. 17.
Only three initiatives have secured places on the 2020 ballot: a proposal to increase the minimum wage, a proposal to revamp the primary-election process and a proposal to change constitutional wording about the citizenship of voters.