As the largest battleground state in the nation, Florida voters have a target on their backs. Every election cycle, out-of-state special interest groups and their out-of-state operatives flood into Florida’s major cities with cleverly worded talking points designed to entice voters to sign their petitions. The goal is to circumvent Florida’s elected, representative government and the legislative process by hijacking the state constitution.
Signature gathering firms, mostly fly-by-night operations that are headquartered outside Florida’s legal jurisdiction, typically set up petition operations using misleading or downright false talking points, coupled with aggressive tactics designed to pressure voters into signing petitions. The employees that pester voters as they head into grocery stores are often offered incentives, sometimes as much as $5 per signature, which in turn results in bad behavior. Some signature gatherers will say anything, often telling voters what they want to hear, in exchange for a petition signature. That’s because many of these employees are relying on the money they earn to pay their bills. They are not there because they believe in the underlying cause, which leads to fraud and abuse. One firm alone has racked up numerous fraud convictions, including in Florida:
…has been accused of wrongdoing in seven states and some of their “workers have been convicted of fraud in Florida and accused of violations in six other states, including California.” Source: Arizona Independent
Six other states have already shut down per-signature payments: Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota and Wyoming. Meanwhile, Maine and Massachusetts have also introduced pay-per-signature bans.
But Florida Democrats are pushing to stop efforts to reform the process in the legislature as Republican lawmakers attempt to close some of the loopholes. State Rep. Jamie Grant and House Republicans successfully championed House Bill 7111 through a vigorous debate, and eventually won approval in the House by a vote of 71-41. A companion bill, being shepherded through the Florida Senate by Senators Dennis Baxley and David Simmons, has cleared one committee and is under careful scrutiny in another.
Baxley’s reasoning is clear, according to comments in the Tampa Bay Times:
“I am absolutely convinced that this is an area that got out of control. I am here to protect the Florida Constitution.”
The proposed changes are not Draconian. Indeed, Republican lawmakers support the idea of being able to make amendments to the state constitution. The idea is to prevent fly-by-night fraudsters from hijacking the democratic process. According to the Times, the changes would include:
“…making it illegal to pay petition gatherers based on the number of petitions they collect. Also, for example, it would require submission of information about petition gatherers, including their permanent and temporary addresses, and would require the gatherers to sign sworn statements that they will follow state laws and rules.”
It is unclear why Democrat special interest groups would oppose a measure that would provide better enforcement of the law, and protect voters against fraud and false information. Yet in the Florida House, Democrats opposed the measure on a party-line vote.
Despite partisan fear mongering from the same liberal groups who oppose voter ID and ballot security initiatives, the bill’s approval in the Florida Senate would go a long way toward reigning in the outsized influence of out-of-state special interest groups and better oversight of a necessary but chaotic and fraud-riddled process.