Liberal activist groups and their newspaper editor-allies, and out-of-state special interests who manipulate the state constitution for political gain, are all urging Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to veto House Bill 5. In editorials published around the state, they claim petition signature fraud isn’t a serious issue and label the bill an “unfunded mandate” on county elections supervisors. FloridaPolitics.com publisher Peter Schorsch even went so far as to claim the bill somehow tramples the First Amendment right to petition the government.
Those arguments are all complete nonsense. Petition signature fraud is a serious issue. Elections supervisors whining about being given new tools to protect the integrity of their work should get little sympathy from anyone. And naive arguments that there have only been a handful of complaints filed in Florida the past few years are easily countered with stories around the nation where real people are being prosecuted for exactly those things. The fact that Florida is the third most populous state in the nation and we haven’t uncovered widespread signature-gathering fraud should be a red-flag that our state’s petitioning process lacks serious accountability. Custody of petition signature forms in Florida is currently impossible to audit, let alone investigate and prosecute.
Finally, despite Peter Schorsch’s outlandish claims, the bill does nothing to alter anyone’s “right to petition their government.” Such nonsense can be dismissed as a calculated but logically and legally flawed attempt to appeal to DeSantis’s conservative views on constitutional primacy.
No, the real reason liberals and their allies hate HB5 is because it tightens security controls on signature gathering efforts, makes it easier for state officials to audit signature gathering efforts, and allows elections officials to refer certain cases to the state attorney general’s office for investigation and enforcement.
Everything that liberals hate about voter ID laws and tighter ballot box security are the same reasons they hate HB5.
The reason lawmakers passed the bill in the first place is because out-of-state special interest groups are trying to turn Florida into California. It’s no coincidence that one of the worst firms operating in California has been accused of wrongdoing in seven different states, including workers convicted of fraud in Florida.
Democrats and their allies are howling about HB5 for one reason: they abhor accountability, which is exactly what HB5 will install into Florida’s lacking constitutional amendment process. Activist groups spend millions of dollars every election cycle paying out-of-state companies to hire signature gatherers, folks typically encountered in grocery store parking lots begging people to sign their petition to change the state constitution. Many citizens, in a hurry, have no idea what they are signing, just wanting to go on with their day. But in many documented cases, paid signature gatherers, trying to earn a few extra bucks, either hide the truth about the impact of a particular amendment, or simply forge signatures.
Florida is not alone this year in cracking down on petition signature fraud. Florida’s bill, which requires paid petition gatherers to register with the state, doesn’t even go as far as six other states that already shut down per-signature payments that incentivize fraud: Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota and Wyoming. Meanwhile, Maine and Massachusetts are considering pay-per-signature bans.
Governor DeSantis would do all Floridians a great service by making it harder for out-of-state special interest groups, fraudsters and political operatives to manipulate the petition process for political gain. Signing HB5 would introduce common sense security measures designed to protect voters and the state constitution, and provide elections officials with badly needed auditing tools designed to aid investigations into suspected cases of petition signature fraud.