Defying expectations, Florida's Amendment 9 ballot initiative to ban both offshore drilling and vaping in offices has passed with a commanding 68 percent of the vote.
If you are wondering what kind of signature gathering campaign produced such a garbled initiative, the answer is none. Instead, Amendment 9 was cobbled together by the state's Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).
Created back in the 1960s, the CRC is made up of 36 unelected commissioners appointed by the governor (who gets to pick 15) the leaders of the Florida House and Senate (who each appoint nine) and the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court (who chooses three commissioners). The Attorney General also sits on the CRC as its 37th and only elected member.
Meeting every 20 years, the CRC is tasked with coming up with new constitutional amendments, which—upon approval by the body—go straight to the voters, no questions asked.
Not wanting to waste this rare opportunity, this year's CRC initially drafted some 20 amendments to place on the ballot. When concerns arose that this might confuse or fatigue voters, the CRC decided to condense these 20 initiatives into seven even more confusing measures.
In addition to vaping and oil drilling, Florida voters were asked to decide on ballot questions that combined issues like death benefits for military spouses and state university funding (Amendment 7), as well as highspeed rail, retroactivity for statutorily reduced criminal penalties, and the ability of foreign residents to own property (Amendment 11).
The prevailing view leading up to election day was that these confusing ballot initiatives would get crushed. Instead, they all won handily. The herculean efforts of proponents to squeeze both, seemingly unrelated issues into one coherent narrative helped get Amendment 9 over the finish line.
"Amendment 9 offers voters an opportunity to speak up against big oil and tobacco companies in a unified voice: 'Not off our shores!', 'Not in our public places!'," wrote two members of this cycle's CRC for Florida daily news site TCPalm.com.
Other papers seemed almost happy at the efficiency gains of having two obviously correct positions bundled together.
"Amendment 9 may be the silliest combination of all, combining a ban on nearshore oil drilling with a ban on using e-cigarettes in workplaces. Fortunately, both have merit," wrote the Orlando Sentinel's editorial board. "More logrolling by the Constitution Revision Commission, but with no apparent harmful effects," concluded Ft. Lauderdale's Sun-Sentinel.
As a cautious fan of ballot initiatives, I'm not so cheery.
The idea behind taking issues directly to the people is that it allows voters to bypass the machinations of state legislatures, which are often out of step with popular opinion and motivated by incentives other than serving their constituents. Amendment 9 violated the spirit of the ballot initiative concept by asking voters to ratify a backroom deal they had no part in putting together.
What reforms might be necessary to prevent this kind of logrolling by the CRC in the future is a good question. It's something Floridians can ponder they're forced to step outside for a quick vape break.