As the political world moves into the 2024 election cycle, leading candidates seeking to seize the nation’s most powerful positions have commanded much of the media’s attention. Stateside, however, constitutional amendment proposals are entering the final stretch of gathering and certifying signatures, racing to reach the necessary number to appear on ballots.
The process for a constitutional amendment initiative to reach ballots involves a petition-driven method. First, advocates must draft language addressing a single subject for the proposed amendment, which is then reviewed by the Florida Attorney General to ensure it is not misleading and meets legal requirements
Once approved, a specific number of valid signatures from registered Florida voters must be collected. In Florida, the number of required signatures for an amendment is equal to 8 percent of the votes cast in the preceding presidential election. For the current election cycle, this amounts to 891,589 valid signatures, which must be certified by February 1, 2024.
Florida also enforces a distribution rule which stipulates that at least 14 of the state’s 28 congressional districts must submit signatures totaling at least 8 percent of the district-wide vote in the most recent presidential election.
The proposed amendment then undergoes a second review, this time conducted by the Florida Supreme Court, to confirm its adherence to the one-subject rule and to eliminate voter deception. If the required signatures are verified and the Supreme Court gives its approval, the amendment proceeds to the general election ballot, where voters can cast votes on the proposal. If an amendment receives 60 percent of the vote, it is adopted.
Two proposals have already been referred to ballots by the state Legislature. The first, if approved by voters, would make school board elections partisan beginning in the November 2026 general election. Currently, four states — Alabama, Connecticut, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania — have state laws providing for partisan school board elections.
The second would provide a state constitutional right to hunt and fish, declaring that they serve as the preferred means for “responsibly managing and controlling fish and wildlife” and “shall be preserved forever as a public right.”
As of this month, three proposals — with varying degrees of probability — appear to be within reason of appearing on the 2024 ballots.
Safe & Smart Florida
The only proposal to surpass one million signatures (1,013,352), the Smart & Safe Florida political committee is seeking to amend the state’s marijuana laws to allow individuals aged 21 or older to “possess, use, purchase, display, and transport up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and marijuana accessories for personal use for any reason.”
Trulieve — Florida’s largest medical marijuana distributor — has contributed more than $50 million to the initiative, accounting for nearly all of the committee’s fundraising, with less than $125 coming from other sources. All but about $100,000 of the money raised by the committee has been spent on collecting and validating petition signatures.
The proposal would also allow any of the state’s 22 licensed medical marijuana operators to “acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell and distribute such products and accessories.”
The committee faces a potential hiccup, however, after the Florida Supreme Court stated in May that it would consider a legal challenge issued by state Attorney General Ashley Moody which contends the proposal violates the state’s constitution.
In her submission, Moody indicated that “the proposed amendment fails to meet the requirements” of specific state law. However, she withheld further details, promising “additional argument through a briefing at the appropriate time.”
With the validity of the proposal at the discretion of the state’s highest court, Safe & Smart Florida can be considered a coin-toss initiative, with its approval as likely as its denial.
Right to Clean Water Initiative
The Right to Clean and Healthy Water Initiative, sponsored by the organization of the same name, would establish a “fundamental right to clean and healthy waters” in the state constitution while granting residents the legal authority to sue organizations or government entities in order to enforce such rights.
The organization was formed following a successful water rights campaign in Orange County by a similar volunteer group that campaigned to protect water quality within the jurisdiction.
The amendment was adopted by 89.2 percent of county voters when it was placed for consideration on the 2020 ballot, making it the first county charter amendment in the United States to establish a legal foundation for protecting the waters within its bounds.
Despite picking up support from the League of Women Voters of Florida and being endorsed by the Alachua County Board of Commissioners, the proposal has procured just 43,410 signatures. With less than eight months until the cutoff date, it seems unlikely that organizers will be able to gather the necessary number of signatures by February.
Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion
The least likely of the discussed initiatives to make it to ballots, the Floridians For Freedom-backed proposal aims to do exactly as its name states — establish that “no law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health.”
A relatively recent effort, having only been launched in May of this year, it was filed in direct response to legislation passed by state lawmakers during the last Legislative Session that saw Florida’s abortion regulations extended to six weeks.
The initiative has received the support of Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, as well as Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
Thus far, the campaign has picked up 22,165 signatures. Though the cards seemed stacked against gathering 869,000 more signatures, News Service of Florida reported earlier this year that the backing committee raised $1.87 million in the week before its founding. Moreover, inevitable debates on the national stage could provide an increase in awareness. While it would be fair to consider the amendment dead on arrival, it still has a pulse.
Notably, an opposite measure sponsored by Protect Human Life Florida seeks to codify abortion regulation into the state’s constitution. Since its inception, it has received 16,053 signatures.