Florida Voters Finding Ballot Issues Confusing
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The League of Women Voters of Florida says it has gotten more than 1,000 calls over the past month from voters who are confused and frustrated over the 11 proposed state constitutional amendments that the Legislature has placed on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The head of an association representing local election officials, though, said on Friday that she’s gotten no more complaints than usual in her county, nor has she heard anything from colleagues around the state about an uptick this year.
“We always have calls no matter how much or how little language is on the ballot,” said Martin County Supervisor of Elections Vicki Davis. “It always confuses voters.”
Many voters already have cast absentee ballots and an eight-day early voting period begins Saturday at a limited number of sites in each of Florida’s 67 counties.
Davis, who is president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, said the next question most people ask is if they have to vote on everything. She said the answer is no. The League of Women Voters, though, has different advice.
“If you don’t understand the amendments, don’t skip them. Reject them,” said Deirdre Macnab, the league’s state president. “Send a message to legislators by defeating their incomprehensible, misnamed, intentional confusing proposals.”
The league has received complaints about the amendments and their ballot summaries, which themselves are up to 600 words long, since opening its state Voter Assistance Hot Line — 855-358-6837, or 855-FL-VOTER — a month ago.
It’s taken up to an hour to explain the amendments to some voters, league executive director Jessica Lowe-Minor said.
“Many callers start by apologizing, saying it must be their fault, they must be stupid, because they don’t understand the language or true intent of the amendments,” Lowe-Minor said.
Macnab said the problem isn’t with voters but with a law the Legislature passed last year.
It exempts amendments placed on the ballot by the Legislature from rules that citizen initiatives must follow. That includes court reviews of ballot titles and summaries to make sure they are clear and accurate and a 75-word limit on summaries. No citizen initiatives are on this year’s ballot.
“If the Legislature wants voters to support their constitutional amendments, they have a responsibility to present them fairly, and in a way that voters can easily understand,” Macnab said.
One example is Amendment 8, titled “Religious Freedom,” which can mean different things to different people.
The proposal would repeal an existing ban on taxpayer funding of churches and other religious organizations. It would be replaced with a requirement that public funds cannot be denied if people choose to receive government services through religious organizations.
The title seems fine to the amendment’s supporters, including the Roman Catholic Church, but opponents say it’s misleading. They also have complained the ballot summary fails to disclose the amendment could clear a potential obstacle to voucher programs that provide taxpayer money to parochial and other private schools.
Five of the amendments would provide tax breaks to homeowners, businesses, veterans and others. There also are amendments that would cap state revenues, limit abortion rights, give the Legislature more control of the court system, let voters express their opposition to the federal health care overhaul and change the procedure for appointing the student member of the board that oversees state universities.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.