With all the focus on Republican sweep of the state cabinet and pickups in the legislature, results of voting on the six proposed constitutional amendments on Florida’s 2010 general election ballot have gotten scant attention or analysis. But to varying degrees, they may have important impact on Florida in the years ahead. So here’s a rundown on what happened and what it may mean. Note that in order for any amendment to pass, it must receive a sixty-percent or higher “Yes” vote.
Amendment 1 was an initiative put on the ballot by Republicans in the state legislature. It sought to repeal the law providing public matching funds for candidates who agree to limit campaign spending to prescribed levels. This law is intended to allow candidates without the benefit of unlimited personal wealth and/or private donations to still compete with candidates who do have those financial advantages. Amendment 1 received just over 52% of the Yes votes, and so was defeated. This is good news for those who believe in the need for campaign finance reform, although reformers agree that far tougher state and national rules are still needed to bring true fairness to our electoral system.
Amendment 2 was another legislative initiative, seeking to give extra “Homestead” property tax exemptions to military personnel who in the past year had been deployed on active duty overseas. The amendment passed with almost 78% of voters saying “Yes“. On the down side, the new tax break will take money from the state treasury at a time of financial crisis, and it discriminates against military personnel serving with distinction here in the USA. But even taking those negatives into account, it’s hard to argue with anything that’s done to help Americans voluntarily serving in our Armed Forces.
Amendment 4 was a citizens’ initiative, which means it got on the ballot via a public petition drive, one which in this case gathered nearly a million signatures. The amendment aimed to give voters approval or disapproval rights (through public referendums) over changes to comprehensive land use plans in their own communities that had already been approved by city or county commissioners. Amendment 4 failed to pass, receiving less than 33-percent of the “Yes” vote. This means that final decisions about proposed changes to residential, commercial, agricultural and recreational land use designations around the state will remain in the hands of local commissions of 3-5 elected officials, for better or for worse.
Amendments 5 & 6 were also put on the ballot by a citizens’ initiative petition drive, this one gathering 1.7 million signatures statewide. Taken together these amendments are intended to reform the way that Florida’s U.S. congressional and state legislative districts are drawn up, replacing what has been widely criticized as a rigged process of “gerrymandering” with an impartial, independent “Fair Districts” approach. The two amendments passed with over sixty-two percent of the “Yes” vote, potentially ushering in a new era in Florida politics. Until now, the party in power following the U.S. census every decade has had the privilege of “picking its voters”, carving up districts in crazy patterns that serve only one purpose: keeping their party in control of the district and the legislature. That’s all supposed to change with passage of 5 & 6.
Amendment 8 was a Republican legislative initiative, an effort to reverse prior legislation limiting the allowable number of students in Florida’s public school classrooms. The stated goal was to reduce public education costs. The amendment failed to pass, receiving only about 55-percent of the “Yes” vote. That means Florida’s public school system, near the bottom in national rankings and severely underfunded, will not use increased class size as a mechanism for infusing more dollars into the system. Most parents and educators seem pretty happy about that, but everyone agrees that the system remains in desperate need of increased funding, and general systemic reform.
So there you have it. While Floridians followed the national trend of voting more Republicans and conservatives into office this year, they showed far more moderate independence in their decision-making on ballot amendments. The votes to keep public campaign financing alive and maintain limits on classroom size went against the advice of the Republican Party of Florida that advanced both initiatives.
Far more important, and again going against Republican advice, was the passage of the two “Fair Districts” amendments, 5 & 6. These may in fact turn out to be the most important results of the 2010 election. If the new impartial process of drawing up congressional and legislative districts is done right, than neither the Republicans or the Democrats will again have the luxury of cherry-picking only those voters they think will best guarantee their continuing grip on power. Here in 2010, that system resulted in no less than 32 incumbent members of the Florida state legislature waltzing into office completely unopposed in the general election. And that system has seen incumbent legislators win an astounding 417 out of 420 elections since 2004.
Thanks to the voters and the efforts of the Fair Districts team that educated the public about redistricting and promoted the amendments as non-partisan reforms, a big step forward in electoral integrity is going to be taken by Florida of all places, and in the opinions of many, that can’t happen soon enough.