Bundled Constitutional Amendments Likely To Confuse Voters

Apr 28, 2018

The 2018 Florida Constitution Revision Commission. Group photo.
Credit Constitution Revision Commission

Florida voters will pick a slate of new state leaders, local legislative representatives, city and county officials  and toward the end, if they make it-- a dozen or so requests to change the state constitution.  Yet some of those requests are likely to give voters pause upon a close read: do they want to ban indoor vaping while simultaneously banning offshore drilling?  Many of the amendments are grouped together and observers worry the result will end up confusing voters. 

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission is putting eight amendments before voters to consider. But there’s a catch. Most of those eight are comprised of two and three different proposals.

“I’m guessing because some of these are grouped together that’s going to endanger them a bit more than the ones than if they kept them separate," says Florida State University Political Scientist Carol Weissert.

She heads the policy think-tank, the LeRoy Collins Center, and empathizes with the CRC's dilemma. There were more than 400 proposals for members to consider. Ultimately, they settled on about 20. To reduce the number further, some got tossed out and others grouped together.

"I have to agree with them, putting 20 measures on the ballot is not going to make it."

Historically, eight proposals are in-line with what past CRC's have done. But in the past, most of those initiatives were single-subject ones, not multiples. And Weissert says some of the current bundled amendments are a stretch at relationships. Take the amendment that requires a super majority trustee vote before public universities can raise fees, paired with greater benefits for first responders and military members, along with and putting the state college system into the Florida Constitution.

Weissert says, "that’s one were people might say, ‘well I certainly support survivor benefits but what will it do to universities,’ or  are they just going to say, ‘survivor benefits, I’m for this.”  

The CRC's bundling is controversial and for Florida Education Association president Joanne McCall, it's political. 

“You have the big, another entity to decide what happens to charters [schools], tied with civic education. So one thing looks good and another doesn’t look so good.” 

The teachers union president is unimpressed by a plan asking voters to term-limit local school board members while requiring civic education in schools. McCall doesn’t care for the CRC’s bundling tactic and slams CRC members for, "wasting all this taxpayer money to do absolutely nothing and make a sham of the system.”

Pairing potentially unpopular ideas with others can neuter opposition, as in the case of the university fee issue, which schools don’t like, and first responder benefits. But Weissert says what may be worse, is the increasing likelihood that voters will just be confused.

“Everything is political these days, and you do have the framing. And as I said, I think its confusing for voters.”  

And a confused voter is a voter likely to say no. Which, depending on which side of the bundled amendments one falls on, may or may not be a bad thing.