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State News

Appeals Court Tosses Out Challenge To Florida Ballot Cost Estimate

Closeup shot of one presidential election button in focus in between many other buttons in a box.
Carsten Reisinger
/
stock.adobe.com
The proposed constitutional amendment at issue would allow voters to cast ballots in primary elections regardless of party affiliation.

A state appeals court has cleared the way for a cost estimate to be placed on the November ballot about a controversial constitutional amendment that would revamp Florida’s primary-election system.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal on Friday tossed out a Leon County circuit judge’s ruling that ordered a state panel to revise an estimate of the cost of carrying out the amendment. Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled that the estimate, which will be presented to voters in the Nov. 3 general election, is “not clear.”

But the appeals court, pointing to a deadline in state law, overturned Dodson’s ruling Friday and ordered that he dismiss the case as “moot.” The three-page decision by Judges Brad Thomas, Harvey Jay and Adam Tanenbaum indicated the Tallahassee-based appeals court will issue a more-detailed opinion later about its reasoning.

The proposed constitutional amendment, backed by the political committee All Voters Vote, would allow registered voters to cast ballots in primary elections regardless of party affiliation --- a major change from the state’s longstanding system of generally limiting primaries to voters registered with parties.

Under the proposal, which is opposed by the state Republican and Democratic parties, the two candidates getting the most votes in each primary would advance to the general election.

All Voters Vote filed a lawsuit in April challenging what is known as a “financial impact statement” that would provide information to voters about potential costs of the change. State analysts estimated that counties would face $5.2 million to $5.8 million in costs because of the change during election cycles in even-numbered years, when races are held for such things as congressional and legislative seats. The estimated costs would be lower in odd-numbered years.

The analysts, who serve on the state Financial Impact Estimating Conference, said the measure would have only “minimal” additional costs for the state.

All Voters Vote argued that the estimates of county costs were unclear and misleading, saying, in part, that many counties indicated the potential changes would not have any costs or that costs were unknown.

Dodson, in an Aug. 18 ruling, agreed with the political committee that parts of the financial impact statement dealing with local government costs were “unclear and ambiguous.” He ordered the Financial Impact Estimating Conference to submit a revised estimate to the secretary of state by Aug. 28.

But the state appealed Dodson’s decision, a move that placed it on hold. While attorneys for the state argued in a brief that the financial impact statement “is clear and unambiguous and complies with all applicable legal standards,” Friday’s decision that rejected Dodson’s order was based on part of state law dealing with deadlines for such financial statements.

That part of state law says a financial impact statement “shall be deemed approved for placement on the ballot” if the Florida Supreme Court has not issued an advisory opinion about the statement 75 days before the election --- or Aug. 20 this year, according to the appeals court. The Supreme Court had not issued an advisory opinion by that date.

“The trial court’s judgment no longer can have any operative effect, so the case is moot and must be dismissed,” the appeals court decision said.