With the start of early voting less than a week away, South Florida election supervisors are concerned this year’s ballots could overwhelm people and result in voters ignoring contentious referendum questions at the voting booth.
The ballots are longer than those in previous years. And the supervisors of elections in Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe counties are urging voters to learn about the amendment questions before showing up to the polls.
Although the amendments involve high-stakes subjects like homestead tax exemptions and ex-felon voting rights, the supervisors say some voters may only vote on candidates and leave the questions unanswered.
“People get really scared when I go out and show them the ballot,” Palm Beach County elections supervisor Susan Bucher said in an interview in her West Palm Beach office. “We don’t want them to get into the voting booth, vote the candidates and go, ‘Oh gosh I don’t want to do the back side of the first page. I don’t even want the second page.’”
Ballots in some cities will be up to five double-sided pages. They are longer this year because they include 12 state amendments—the most since the 1998 election. Each amendment requires 60 percent of the vote to be approved.
Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years, generated eight of the amendments. The rest came from citizen petitions, and some counties and cities have more than 10 of their own referendum questions.
Several of the state questions are straightforward, like Amendment 3, which asks if voters should have exclusive control to authorize the expansion of casino gambling across Florida. But other amendments have generated controversy because they bundle multiple unrelated questions.
Amendment 9, for example, includes a ban on offshore oil and gas drilling and would also prohibit electronic cigarette vaping indoors. The proposal and two others have faced court challenges that say such bundling would violate the First Amendment rights of people, who could have conflicting opinions of the items within the same amendment.
“The first question you might like,” Bucher said. “But the second two items you might not agree with. And that’s just flatly a disservice to our voters.”
Another question involving charter schools was already taken off the ballot after the Florida Supreme Court deemed it misleading.
The Constitutional Revision Commission has said bundling the questions keeps ballots from being even longer. But Bucher blamed the commission for making the amendments confusing.
Her office has been passing out cheat sheets that shorten and simplify the wording of the amendments, she said. Monroe County supervisor Joyce Griffin and Miami-Dade supervisor Christina White added that voters should research the amendments before going to polls.
“You should not be looking at these questions for the very first time in the voting booth,” White told WLRN. “That is for me the main message of this election.”
With the start of early voting on Oct. 22, supervisors said voters should fill out sample ballots that they’ve received in the mail. They can then copy off the samples when they vote. It will speed up the voting process and minimize lines at polling places, the supervisors said.
Counties have also taken steps to make voting easier. In Broward, polling places will have new express voting machines meant for people with disabilities. That county’s supervisor, Brenda Snipes, said voters who have difficulty reading can also bring friends or relatives into the voting booth to help with navigating the long ballots.
“And we’ll have people available” at the polling places who can help voters read the amendments,” Snipes said. “We're hoping that folks are going to get the message.”