Politics | October 28th, 2020

Florida’s Amendment 4 Affects Grassroots Initiatives

By: Alaijah Brown
Florida’s Amendment 4 Affects Grassroots Initiatives

Amendment 4 on the Florida 2020 ballot, titled “Voter Approval of Constitutional Amendments”, would require amendments to the constitution be approved by 60% of voters in two successive general elections before it can be passed into law.

Florida allows citizens to initiate amendment proposals that, if eligible, will be present for voters on the election ballot. The grassroot initiative process gives citizens the power to directly influence their government. Legislation, like the legalization of medical marijuana and the restoration of voting rights to ex-felons, was introduced to voters through grassroot initiatives. 

Laws governing the citizen initiative process filter petitions that are qualified to pass to the ballot to avoid unnecessary or poorly supported initiatives. Qualifications are dependent on the number of petition signatures, funding and more. For an amendment to have been eligible for the 2020 Florida ballot, it needs at least 766,200 signatures and funding can cost millions of dollars and both must be acquired quickly. If No.4 is approved, these qualifications would have to be met twice for initiatives to be present for voters on their ballot.

To those who value influencing the government directly through initiatives, the amendment appears to be a threat of voter suppression. For some, the idea of waiting two elections for legislation to be passed is confusing and does not need much deliberation.

“I simply cannot wrap my head around a six-year campaign to amend our constitution,” Nick Hansen, chairman of Make it Legal Florida said. Hansen says the amendment is excessive and insulting to voters. 

Critics, like the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, say that the amendment will undermine the citizen initiative process and urge Floridians to vote “no” to Amendment 4. The ACLU has been fighting alongside other grassroot organizations to protect Floridian voters and the citizen initiative process from special interests who want to take control of direct democracy from voters. Some feel that petitioning an amendment to the ballot is already an expensive and time-consuming process and that the proposed amendment would only make it more tedious. 

Keep our Constitution Clean PAC, the sponsor of Amendment 4, argues that the amendment will reduce the amount of revising to the Florida constitution by encouraging voters to think twice before proposing and voting on amendments. Supporters argue that it is too easy to amend the constitution. The Florida constitution has been amended 140 times since the late 1960s, which to some appears to be excessive when compared to the 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution since its adoption in the 1700s. Despite the expensive and time-consuming process that is already in place, proponents suggest that Amendment 4 will further discourage unnecessary proposals from being passed into legislation by giving voters more time to understand proposals. 

Amendment 4 cost over $9 million and the untraceable funding and donations has raised controversy. The PAC has faced scrutiny because it may be an attempt for big money industries, like the Associated Industries of Florida, to have a hand in the Florida legislative process. Opponents say that if the proposed amendment is approved, only special interests that are well funded can afford to sponsor initiatives in the future.