Florida voters will weigh-in on six amendments to the Florida Constitution during this year’s general election. Some would make minor changes to the state’s primary governing document, while others could significantly raise the minimum wage and change the way voters pick their elected officials.
The League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County has been holding its “Conversations with the League” series on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. On Wednesday, Sept. 23, guest speaker Linda Geller-Schwartz discussed the six constitutional amendments on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Believing that voting is a fundamental right that must be guaranteed, the League of Women Voters, which has been co-ed since 1974, has a two-pronged approach, providing education to voters and advocating for certain positions, in different venues. The evening’s presentation was an educational one, and no specific positions were taken.
Geller-Schwartz explained that amendments to the Florida Constitution are embedded in the body of the document, and not all grouped together at the end like in the United States Constitution. The adoption of an amendment requires a 60 percent supermajority of voters, and on the ballot, it only summarizes and shows the amended language.
Amendment 1 — The first amendment is called “Citizenship Requirement to Vote in Florida Elections.” It focuses on one word. The constitution currently reads that “every” citizen of the United States is eligible to vote. The measure changes the constitution to read “only a” citizen of the United States is eligible to vote. In function, it would change nothing, since Florida law only allows U.S. citizens to vote.
Those who support the amendment, led by former Missouri lawmaker and national chairman of Florida Citizen Voters John Loudon, who is said to fund the organization, writes in their literature that they want, “To ensure that elections are preserved for committed citizens of the United States, and they want to ensure that non-citizens are prevented from voting now and in the future.” This amendment, they say, will provide Florida with an extra protection that Arizona and North Dakota voters are also voting on whether or not they need.
Those opposed to the amendment find it silly at best, and at worst, question the motives behind the organization pushing it. Geller-Schwartz reported that a study of the number of non-citizens purposely attempting to vote found very few cases of this actually happening, particularly here in Florida.
Amendment 2 — The second amendment is called “Raising Florida’s Minimum Wage.” It would increase Florida’s minimum wage, which is currently set at $8.56 per hour. “That amounts to $17,800 per year for a full-time worker,” Geller-Schwartz said. “This amendment would initially establish incremental increases starting on Sept. 30, 2021.”
On that date, the minimum wage would increase by $1.44 per hour to $10 per hour. “Then, the minimum wage would increase by one dollar per hour on Sept. 30 of each year thereafter until it reaches $15 per hour in 2026. Subsequent increases would be pegged to the Consumer Price Index,” Geller-Schwartz said.
The current minimum wage for tip wages is $5.54 per hour. This assumes $3.02 per hour in tips, which would be subtracted out of the minimum wage.
Opponents say this increase could bankrupt some business owners. Proponents point out that Florida’s low-wage workers earn less per hour in real dollars than their counterparts of 50 years ago, and that statistics show it is easier to retain workers at higher pay, reducing turnover costs.
Amendment 3 — The third amendment is called “All Voters Vote in Primary Elections” and would set up an open primary system for state offices whereby anyone, including the state’s 3.4 million non-party-affiliated registered voters, as well as all other voters registered with political parties, could vote for any candidate in the primary for governor, state legislature and elected cabinet members.
This is often called a “jungle primary” system, and the top two vote getters, regardless of party, would advance to the general election. This could lead to a situation where the top two are both from the same party.
Geller-Schwartz said that a drawback to this type of primary would occur when multiple members of one party, say five candidates, run against two or three members of another party. The five could split the vote such that the two from the other party progress to the general election as the top two vote getters.
Those supporting this amendment tend to be people who are seeking political reform, while party leaders are opposed. Some concern has also been raised about this amendment’s ability to curtail the voting strength of minority communities.
Amendment 4 — This amendment aims to create fewer amendments to the Florida Constitution. Called “Voter Approval of Constitutional Amendments,” it calls for constitutional amendments to be passed by a 60 percent margin in two consecutive elections.
“Those for this amendment say that it would ‘reduce the number of whimsical amendments,’” Geller-Schwartz said, adding that it would make it much more difficult to get citizen-led amendments passed into law.
Amendments 5 & 6 — Geller-Schwartz grouped these two amendments together because they both deal with how property taxes are calculated.
“The next two amendments are situations of incursions into the home rule of municipalities. If you believe that taxing sources should not be detailed in the constitution, then you might be against these amendments,” Geller-Schwartz said.
Amendment 5 is called “Limitation on Homestead Assessments” and states that the Save Our Homes initiative that taxes only on the difference between the adjusted valued and the appraised fair market value would be extended from two years to three. A homeowner who sold their house on Jan. 2 currently gets two full years, while the sale going through on Dec 30 of that year gets a year and two days. This measure is fairer to that homeowner but reduces tax collections for the county and municipality.
The sixth amendment is definitely an issue of fairness, but again the League of Women Voters takes the position that tax sources don’t belong in the constitution, as it reduces home rule decision making.
This amendment, called “Ad Valorem Tax Discount for Spouses of Certain Deceased Veterans,” corrects an inequity in stating that a combat-wounded veteran’s homestead exemption is transferable to their spouse until they remarry or sell the property.
Geller-Schwartz alerted everyone to remember that the deadline to register to vote is Monday, Oct. 5, while Saturday, Oct. 24 is the deadline to request a vote-by-mail ballot. Early voting runs from Monday, Oct. 19 through Sunday, Nov. 1 at select locations, and the big day is Tuesday, Nov. 3 for the general election.