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Your ballot in plain English: A guide to Florida's 2016 election, an explanation of the amendments

Posted: 10:28 AM, Oct 21, 2016
Updated: 2016-11-08 21:49:51-05

Dr. Robert Watson, Professor of American Studies at Lynn University, has written the following election guide to help voters better understand the process and the issues on this year's ballot.

This explainer is broken into several sections. You can jump to sections using the following links:
Voting 101
Sample ballot
Ballot amendments and citizen initiatives
Amendments in plain English
Helpful resources
Common voting myths

VOTING 101

When is Election Day?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

How do I register to vote?

In Florida, you can register in person or by mail. However, you must register at least 29 days prior to the election. To register to vote, you need a current and valid Florida driver’s license, state identification card, or the last four digits of your Social Security number. If you don’t have these items, you must write “NONE” on the voter registration form. If you are registering by mail and are a first-time voter in Florida, you need one of the three items mentioned above, but you must also provide an additional, valid ID with a photo. There are a few exceptions to these requirements.

Contact the Supervisor of Elections in your county to register or obtain more information.

Who can vote?

To be eligible to vote in Florida you must:

√ Be a citizen of the US

√ Be a resident of Florida

√ Be 18 years old on or before the day of the election

√ Not be convicted of a felony (or have had your full rights restored by the state)

√ Not be adjudicated as mentally incapacitated

Do I need an ID to vote?

You must provide a valid ID that shows your signature and photo (or one with your signature and another with your photo). The following are examples of accepted IDs:

√ Florida driver’s license

√ Florida identification card

√ US passport

√ Government employee card

√ Military identification

√ Student identification

√ Veteran health identification (from the US Department of Veterans Affairs)

If you don’t have a valid ID or if it is lost, you must request a “provisional ballot” and sign it. Your provisional ballot will be examined by the Supervisor of Elections for eligibility and, if so, will be counted as a vote.

What about early voting?

Florida allows for early voting. It depends on the county in Florida, but most counties have early voting from October 24 to November 6. There are fewer polling places open for early voting than for voting on November 8, and generally the polls are open from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM.

What about absentee voting?

Florida allows for absentee voting or voting-by-mail. You can request (in person, in writing, by phone, or online) an absentee ballot through the Supervisor of Elections in your county and it will be mailed to you. You no longer need a reason to vote by mail, such as being out of the county on Election Day. However, you must request the absentee/vote-by-mail ballot six days prior to the election and these ballots must be received by the Supervisor of Elections by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Where do I vote?

Your voter identification card will list the location of your precinct/polling site or you can simply contact the Supervisor of Election in your county.

What if I have questions about where to vote, how to vote, or the candidates?

The League of Women Voters has an informative, non-partisan guide that can help you with all these questions. Visit www.vote411.org

SAMPLE BALLOT

PRESIDENT AND VICE PRESIDENT

 

Donald J. Trump                    REP

Michael R. Pence

 

Hillary Rodham Clinton        DEM

Timothy M. Kaine

 

Gary Johnson                          LPF

Bill Weld

 

Darrell L. Castle                     CPF

Scott N. Bradley

 

Jill Stein                                  GRE

Ajamu Baraka

 

Roque De La Fuente              REF

Michael Steinberg

Write-In Candidate

UNITED STATES SENATOR

 

Marco Rubio                           REP

Patrick Murphy                      DEM

Paul Stanton                           LFP

Tony Khoury                          NPA

Bruce Nathan                         NPA

Steven Machal                        NPA

Basil E. Dalack                       NPA

Write-In Candidates

 

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

The specific candidates on the ballot depend on the congressional district in which you live. All 435 seats in the U.S. House are up for election every two years.

STATE SENATE

The specific candidates on the ballot depend on the district in which you live. State senators serve four-year terms.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE

The specific candidates on the ballot depend on the district in which you live. State representatives serve two-year terms.

COURTS

The specific candidates on the ballot depend on the district in which you live. Florida elects judges and incumbent judges must seek reelection. There are various types of judges, including circuit court and county court judges, who run in non-partisan elections and serve six-year terms. Some judicial elections occur in the Primary Election and others in the General Election. There are also “retention elections” in that the judges’ names appear on the ballot with the wording “Shall Judge [name] be retained in office?” Voters are given a simple “Yes” and “No” response.

LOCAL OFFICES

There may be numerous local offices such as “Soil & Water Conservation” and “Beach & Parks” on the ballot.

 

NO. 1 CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

ARTICLE X, SECTION 29

Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice

 

NO. 2 CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

ARTICLE X, SECTION 29

Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions

 

NO. 3 CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

ARTICLE VII, Section 6

ARTICLE XII

Tax Exemption for Totally and Permanently Disabled First Responders

 

NO. 5 CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

ARTICLE VII, SECTION 6,

ARTICLE XII

Homestead Tax Exemption for Certain Senior, Low-Income, Long-Term Residents

 

LOCAL ORDINANCES

There may be local ordinances on the ballot and they depend on where you live. For instance, Palm Beach County has a county district school measure about a one-cent sales tax to improve infrastructure and the City of Boca Raton has a municipal ordinance regarding public coastal lands. Most local ordinances have a vote whereby you are asked “Shall the ordinance be adopted?” or “For or against…”

Note:  REP = Republican Party

DEM = Democratic Party

LPF = Libertarian Party

CPF = Constitution Party

GRE = Green Party

REF = Reform Party

NPA = Non-Partisan Association or No Party Affiliation

                                                           

BALLOT AMENDMENTS & CITIZEN INITIATIVES

                                                           

Why are amendments on the ballot?

All state constitutions – like the U.S. Constitution – are meant to be living documents. As such, in the face of serious challenges it may be necessary to amend the constitution. The Florida Constitution provides for a process that allows individuals, the State Legislature, and a convention to propose amendments to the State Constitution. In 2006, Florida Amendment 3 raised the requirement for approving a constitutional amendment. To amend the Florida Constitution, the measure must be approved by a 60 percent majority during the election.

What is a citizen initiative?                         

This is the process that permits individuals or groups to get an amendment or referendum placed on the ballot by securing enough voter signatures beforehand. On the other hand, the Florida State Legislature also has the power to place a measure on the ballot, but it requires a vote by 60 percent of the Legislature to do so.

What is the process for placing an amendment on the ballot?

There are several steps required. The first is for the individual (or group) seeking to propose an amendment to register with the Florida Division of Elections as a political committee. The proposed amendment must then be submitted to the Division of Elections for review to determine if it is written in the proper legal format. For instance, the petition form circulated among voters for their signature must be clearly marked as a “Constitutional Amendment Petition” and state the name of the sponsoring political committee. State law requires that the title of an amendment on the ballot be no more than 15 words long and the summary description of it not exceed 75 words. There are a few exceptions and a few other requirements as well.

How does one go about getting signatures?

Petitions must include the signee’s name, legal address, date of birth, voter registration number, signature, and the date of the signature. Only one voter/signature per page is permitted. Once the petition forms are completed, they must be submitted to the Supervisor of Elections in the county where the signee resides along with a fee (approximately 10 cents per signature) to cover the cost of validating the signatures (there is a process to request a waiver of the fee). Petitions are due by February 1 of the year of the election. The petitions are also reviewed by the Division of Elections, State Attorney General, and Florida Supreme Court.

How many signatures are required?

The number of signatures required for an amendment to be placed on the ballot is at least eight percent of votes cast in the previous presidential election. Additionally, the petitions must come from at least half the state’s congressional districts. (Once the petition signatures are obtained, they are good for four years from the date signed.)                                                         

2016 AMENDMENTS

Florida’s ballot for the 2016 election contains four proposed amendments to the state’s Constitution. Depending on the county in which you vote, there may be additional county-wide questions on your ballot. A total of 28 initiatives were filed to be included on the 2016 ballot in Florida, but most were either withdrawn or failed to get the required number of signatures. There was a fifth measure (Amendment 4) that appeared on the ballot during the Primary Election. It was approved on August 30, 2016. Here is an overview:

Amendment 4: Florida Property Tax Exemptions for Renewable Energy Equipment (already passed in Primary Election)

This amendment will provide tax exemptions for solar power and renewable energy sources. Such equipment and items are now tax exempt, lowering the cost of solar installations. One of the measure’s key co-sponsors, Rep. Lori Berman, stated that “Cutting taxes to promote the expansion of solar and renewable energy production is the right policy for our future, and this amendment will provide high-paying jobs for our hardworking families.”

When there are complicated constitutional amendments or referenda on the ballot, the time required to vote and, consequently, the lines at the polls may be a bit longer. Moreover, such amendments and referenda are often written in “lawyer-speak,” which may be confusing to many voters. This was certainly the case in 2012, when there were several complicated amendments and referenda before the voters, making Florida’s ballot that year one of the longest in the United States and one of the longest in Florida’s history. Moreover, some politicians word the measures in a way that a “yes” vote might mean you are opposed to the measure, while a “no” vote supports the issue. As such, the following descriptions of the Amendments on the ballot are written in “plain English” to help you understand them better.

Amendment 1

Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice

Background

This is the second solar energy amendment (Amendment 4 was approved in the Primary Election on August 30). The measure was championed by a special interest group called “Consumers for Smart Solar,” which is basically the utilities companies in Florida. The group raised well over $20 million, nearly all of it from large utility companies. The opposition group, “Floridians for Solar Choice,” raised only a fraction of that money.

Wording on the ballot

This amendment establishes a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use. State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.

In plain English - The amendment allows individuals to produce solar power. It also empowers state and local governments to develop measures to limit those individuals from competing against utility and energy companies. Utility companies do not want individuals selling energy and, with the provision giving government oversight, it will likely limit solar power in Florida.

Why vote YES?

Floridians can produce solar energy for personal use and own or lease solar energy equipment. Supporters claim that it protects individuals from having to subsidize solar energy production by utility companies

Supporters of the measure

?Utility and power companies in Florida

?Various chambers of commerce

?Former elected officials in Florida who are now lobbying on behalf of utility companies

Why vote NO?

Individuals only have the right to produce solar power for personal use. The amendment is an effort by big utility companies to control the energy market in Florida under the pretext of consumer protection and allegedly promoting individual rights and environmentalism.

Opponents of the measure

?Unions such as the AFL-CIO

?Numerous environmental organizations such as the Audubon Society and Greenpeace

?Consumer rights organizations and community groups

 

Amendment 2

Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions

Background

A similar measure failed in 2014 despite receiving 58% of the vote (Florida requires a 60% vote for amendments). The 2016 measure differs from the 2014 amendment in that it emphasizes parental consent, defines “debilitating,” and addresses concerns regarding caregivers and doctors about malpractice. This amendment was initiated by citizens’ groups through a petition drive.

Wording on the ballot

Allows medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician. Allows caregivers to assist patients’ medical use of marijuana. The Department of Health shall register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. Applies only to Florida law. Does not immunize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana.

In plain English

Only licensed physicians can certify patients with certain health conditions as eligible for medical marijuana. The state will regulate the practice and the amendment defines the medical conditions eligible for treatment to be cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and others. It does not legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Why vote YES?

Many physicians and medical researchers maintain that marijuana has important medicinal benefits and its use will be under the care of a licensed physician and strictly regulated by the state.

Supporters of the measure

?Several current and former elected officials in Florida

?Several unions such as the SEIU, AFL-CIO, and AFSME

?Several organizations including ACLU, NORML, and the NAACP

Why vote NO?

Opponents are worried that numerous marijuana shops could spring up around Florida and that medical marijuana treatment centers would soon outnumber Walmarts and Walgreens. They also feel it is a “scam” to legalize marijuana.

Opponents of the measure

?Florida Chamber of Commerce

?Drug Free Florida Committee

?Florida Medical Association

Amendment 3

Tax Exemption for Totally and Permanently Disabled First Responders

Background

This amendment was placed on the ballot by the State Legislature on February 11, 2016 after a unanimous vote by the House and Senate on March 9, 2016. It was introduced in the Florida House on December 18, 2015.

Wording on the ballot

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to authorize a first responder, who is totally and permanently disabled as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty, to receive relief from ad valorem taxes assessed on homestead property, if authorized by general law.

In plain English

The amendment gives property tax exemptions for first responders who have been permanently disabled in the line of duty.

Why vote YES?

Currently, this kind of tax break is only available to surviving spouses of first responders or members of the military lost in the line of duty. The amendment will assist first responders who may no longer be able to make a living in their line of work.

Supporters of the measure

There are no serious, established political groups formed to promote this amendment.

Why vote NO?

Governments would collect less tax money.

Opponents of the measure

There is no serious, established opposition to this amendment and no substantive groups have formed to oppose it.

Amendment 5

Homestead Tax Exemption for Certain Senior, Low-Income, Long-Term Residents

Background

This amendment was placed on the ballot by the State Legislature after a unanimous vote by the House on February 11 and the Senate on March 9. It was initially introduced by the State House on October 1, 2015.

Wording on the ballot

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to revise the homestead tax exemption that may be granted by counties or municipalities for property with just value less than $250,000 owned by certain senior, low-income, long-term residents to specify that just value is determined in the first tax year the owner applies and is eligible for the exemption.

In plain English

Provides a tax break for homes valued at less than $250,000 for senior citizens and permanently disabled veterans over the age of 65 and the spouses of veterans or first responders who were lost in the line of duty.

Why vote YES?

Home values will remain fixed and certain senior citizens will be receive a property tax exemption. It is only for seniors, certain spouses, and those whose homes are valued at less than a quarter million dollars.

Supporters of the measure

?Several elected officials

Why vote NO?

It would lower property tax revenues for governments. It offers lower tax rates to individuals only because they are senior citizens… and a few other criteria.

Opponents of the measure

There is no serious, established opposition to this amendment and no substantive groups have formed to oppose it.

HELPFUL SOURCES ON CANDIDATES & ISSUES

PolitiFact (www.politifact.com)

PolitiFact, a division of the Tampa Bay Times newspaper, is an independent fact-checking website aimed at reporting the truth in politics. They were awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. The website checks statements from elected officials for accuracy using the site’s Truth-O-Meter.

Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org)

The Center for Responsive Politics is a nonpartisan, independent, and nonprofit research group tracking money in U.S. politics. The Center’s mission is to inform citizens about the impact of money in politics, empower voters by providing unbiased information, and advocate for a transparent and responsive government.

Project Vote Smart (votesmart.org)

Project Vote Smart is dedicated to strengthening what they believe to be the most essential component of democracy – access to information. They take no money from special interest groups, PACs, and corporations and report information on candidates for public office.

Fact Check (www.factcheck.org)

Fact Check is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocate for voters with a goal of reducing deception and confusion in politics and campaigns by monitoring the factual accuracy of statements by politicians and newsmakers. It is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Judgepedia (judgepedia.org)

Judgepedia provides information on judges, courts, and elections for judicial positions. It provides an interactive almanac on judges across the country and is hosted by the Lucy Burns Institute.

League of Women Voters (lwv.org)

The League is dedicated to ensuring that all eligible voters have the opportunity and the information to exercise their right to vote. The League provides information and assistance to register and educate voters and also promotes both voting rights and reforming the nation’s campaign finance system. The League operates chapters in counties throughout Florida.

10 COMMON VOTING MYTHS

Myth 1: If your name doesn’t appear on the voter roll at the polling site you can’t vote

No, you can vote but you will need to do so with a provisional ballot.

Myth 2: If you recently moved and forgot to inform the Supervisor of Elections you can’t vote

No, you can still vote as long as you live in the state and are a registered voter, but you will need to vote with a provisional ballot.

Myth 3: Absentee ballots really don’t count unless there is a tied election

No, absentee ballots count like regular ballots in every state.

Myth 4: If you were convicted of a felony you can’t vote.

Well, this one is complicated. Each state has its own laws about whether former felons can vote. In Florida, felons lose their right to vote but can petition to regain their right through the Executive Clemency Board.

Myth 5: You will be turned away from the polls if you wear a political shirt or candidate’s button.

No, if you are a registered voter you can’t be turned away, unless you are disruptive or breaking a law. However, active campaigning is prohibited in the voting area.

Myth 6: If you have an unpaid parking ticket you can’t vot.

No, you can vote even if you have unpaid parking tickets, owe child support, and so on. Polling sites do not have information about such matters.

Myth 7: If you were registered to vote by ACORN your registration is invalid.

No, as long as the individual(s) registering you (from any organization) filed accurate information with the elections office you are registered.

Myth 8: If your address on your driver’s license doesn’t match the address on your voter card, you can’t vote.

No, it does not need to match, although you may be asked to complete a provisional ballot.

Myth 9: If you receive food stamps or welfare you can’t vote.

No, you can still vote… whether or not you receive these supports, or student loans, federal grants, Medicaid, and so on.

Myth 10: I can’t register to vote using my school address because I will be dropped from my parents’ health insurance coverage.

No, you will not be dropped.