As we look towards the November 2018 election, Florida voters will be asked to consider thirteen (13) potential amendments to our state’s Constitution. Eight (8) of those are the result of the work of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), which has concluded just this past month.
One of the most important aspects of the CRC’s efforts to bring these eight (8) amendments to the voters was the work performed by the Style and Drafting Committee in crafting the ballot summary language for the amendments. The ballot summary is the short, seventy-five (75) word or less description of each amendment that will be presented to the voters on the ballot.
There are strict minimum legal requirements that apply to ballot summaries. The summary language must be clear, unambiguous, and accurately convey the chief purpose of the amendment. The summary cannot be misleading or “hide the ball” as to the amendment’s effect. The aims of these requirements are democratic in nature—to ensure that each voter may intelligently cast his or her “true” vote on the proposed measure and is not misled into believing he or she is voting for something different. Ballot summaries are subject to challenge in court. The effect of a successful challenge is the removal of the entire amendment from the ballot.
For CRC proposals, grouping (or, as sometimes critically referred to as “log-rolling”) of proposals is permitted. This means multiple approved proposals that share common elements may be combined and presented to the voters as a single amendment. As recounted by Brecht Heuchan, Chairman of the CRC’s Style and Drafting Committee, grouping of proposals is critical as it prevents “voter fatigue” by keeping the ballot from becoming too lengthy to complete.
A panel of three distinguished and neutral jurists (Judge Chris Altenbernd, Jason Gonzalez, and Barry Richard) undertook the challenging task of grouping and drafting ballot summary language for the approved CRC proposals. The panel performed commendable work, logically grouping twenty-five (25) approved proposals into eight (8) succinct amendments with concise and clearly understandable ballot summary language, which was then approved by vote of the entire CRC.
The ballot title and summary language for Amendment 10 (including language related to original Proposal 13, supported by the Florida Tax Collectors Association, in bold) is as follows:
STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE AND OPERATION (74 words)
Requires legislature to retain department of veterans’ affairs. Ensures election of sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, tax collectors, and clerks of court in all counties; removes county charters’ ability to abolish, change term, transfer duties, or eliminate election of these offices. Changes annual legislative session commencement date in even-numbered years from March to January; removes legislature’s authorization to fix another date. Creates office of domestic security and counterterrorism within department of law enforcement.
Amendment 10 includes five (5) proposals all related to the structure and operation of government. When compared with the actual text of the amendment, the ballot summary language accurately and objectively conveys the true impact of the amendment in a manner that will be clearly understood by voters. It does not “hide the ball” or attempt to mislead the voters into thinking they are voting on something which they are not. Indeed, the summary language almost tracks the pertinent language of the amendment.
The Florida Tax Collectors Association applauds the admirable work of the panel, Style and Drafting Committee, and the entire CRC in their clear and unambiguous presentation of the proposed amendments to the voters on the November 2018 ballot. All that is left now is for the voters of Florida to voice their opinion on these amendments at the ballot box. Each proposed amendment will require 60% approval to pass.