SANFORD – There are so many red hot races on the Nov. 6 ballot – including a presidential campaign that appears to be getting tighter and more competitive by the day, in one of the nation’s few remaining swing states – that Vince Taylor fully understands that some Floridians simply won’t want to take the time to fill out the entire ballot.
That could be particularly true, he said, with the 11 ballot amendments that propose changes to the state Constitution, which are written in a kind of legalese terminology that makes them difficult to understand.
“Some people are intimidated by the vastness of words, if you will, how convoluted the amendments on the ballot seem,” he said.
And in assisting some voters in obtaining absentee ballots, he said, “What we have noticed is people with a ballot will overlook them because of that.”
Taylor is the chief organizer for the Seminole County chapter of the Florida Civil Rights Association. On Tuesday, the association joined religious leaders, attorneys and civic groups for a press conference at the Seminole County Supervisor of Elections office to kick-off a statewide campaign called Taking Souls to the Polls in Droves, which will start on Sunday, Oct. 28 – just in time for early voting.
The campaign is part of a national effort to encourage voter participation in the Nov. 6 election, and to mobilize “souls to the polls in droves” on a popular early voting day, Sunday.
But the activists are also concerned about those 11 ballot referendums, which were put on the ballot by the state Legislature. They propose a host of conservative changes to the state Constitution, from allowing taxpayer money to be sent to private religious schools to creating restrictions on abortion, and allowing new property tax exemptions for certain groups.
The League of Women Voters of Florida held a press conference in late September to urge Florida voters to give a “thumbs down” to all 11 amendments, saying they did not belong in the state Constitution in the first place.
On Tuesday, the civil rights leaders said they not only share those concerns, but are also worried that if voters skip these referendums altogether — and the lawmakers who sponsored the amendments can get their supporters to the polls — avoiding a vote on those referendums could simply ensure their passage.
“Florida’s general election ballot is like a bad road map printed without lines,” said J. Willie David, III, president of the Florida Civil Rights Association. “The multipage ballot is full of choices — for president, U.S. Senate, Congress, the state Legislature, county offices, and merit retention for judges, 11 proposed constitutional amendments, all the way down to city and county referendums. The ballot will create frustration and gridlock at the polls for the voters on Election Day due to the confusing layout.”
David said the amendments are particularly troubling for many civil rights leaders because the wording is so dense that it can be difficult figuring out what they mean or what a yes or no vote implies.
“To fully understand the ballot language in the 11 proposed constitutional amendments, you almost have to be a Harvard lawyer or CIA political analyst,” David said. “For that reason, the Florida Civil Rights Association urges its members and supporters to vote No on all constitutional amendments.”
Taylor said they also want voters to understand that it’s better to take the time now to read up on the amendments, and learn what they propose to do, rather than ignore them altogether – because if they do, he said, that will likely have implications for their lives in the future.
“Although the League of Women Voters urged people to vote no on all of them, I will say we are not making an effort on telling people how to vote, but rather educating them on the impact of what their vote means,” he said.
That starts, he said, with educating voters that the 11 amendments are poorly worded, and voters do themselves a favor by reading about them before heading to the polls.
“Far too often, we evade things we think can be cumbersome,” Taylor said. “When we see that as more of a thought process than we want to put into this, we tend to just ignore it. We know that a lot of times it takes more effort than knowing what you’re seeing on the TV commercials.”
But skipping these amendments, he said, essentially allows others to make these decisions for you, Taylor added.
“I would stress to each voter, don’t just vote for president and ignore the rest of the ballot,” he said. “When it comes to these amendments, our job is to make sure they do recognize that these issues are significant, and even if there are a lot of words in them and you don’t want to bother reading them, they still will have significance in our life. To ignore them is to basically concede those issues to the legislators who put them on the ballot.”
The statewide campaign will focus on nine counties in Florida, including Seminole, Orange, Osceola, Polk, Hillsborough, Leon, Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade.
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