Recommend “Yes” Vote on amendments 4, 9, and 13

(For backup, download explanations and references on all Amendments, and why I recommend a “Yes” vote on amendments 4, 9, and 13:  amendments_florida_2018 )

Ripe with confusion are 13 Florida Constitutional Amendments on the November 6, 2018 ballot. Amendment 8 is on the ballot but won’t even be tallied.  Other Amendments contain multiple, unrelated issues, and/or are misleading, and/or do not belong in a Constitution. According to Ballotpedia.org the average question on Florida’s ballot requires 20 years of U.S. formal education to read and understand.

My initial door canvassing plan, besides asking voters to show up and support all Democrats on the ballot, was to recommend “Vote yes on 4” but nothing more, consistent with the Tampa Bay Times. My plan has changed a little.

At one of the first doors I knocked on, the voter (an employee of the Seminole Tribe of Florida) asked me about Amendment 3, which I wasn’t planning to mention. Another voter felt strongly in favor of Amendment 6 (modeled after California’s Marsy’s Law) that would supposedly expand victims’ rights.

After careful review, besides a “Yes” vote on Amendment 4 (voting restoration), I decided to mention “Yes” on Amendment 9 (bans near off-shore drilling) and “Yes” on Amendment 13 (ends dog racing), if I have the voter’s attention.

I was not planning, and I will not, argue a “No” opinion to voters on goofy, unreadable, or deceptive Amendments. But I do want to show that I understood the issues and the voter’s concern, if I am asked about another Amendment.

For any other Amendment, I take the passive approach of damnation by not mentioning it. I think the rest, except for 4, 9, and 13, are all bad, but I want to make sure a voter votes and gets through the ballot, whether or not they vote the right way on the gobbledygook.  If voters are slightly suspicious, the 60% required vote for passage will prevent most of the bad Amendments from passing. The best warning I can give is to say, “take the time to carefully read your vote-by-mail ballot.” If a voter asks about another Amendment, I say briefly what it is about, and move on.

Based on my research in amendments_florida_2018, Amendments 4, 9, and 13 are easy “Yes” votes and should be easy to understand. Most voters, and all major groups, already support Amendment 4, and when they see 9 and 13, those will be obvious “Yes” votes.

Amendment 4 is very important and beneficial to society because it will automatically restore voting rights to felons (except not murderers or sex criminals) who have completed their sentences. With some 1.5 million citizens who have completed their sentences and cannot vote, Florida is last in the nation in voting restoration. Florida has a long history of suppression of Black voters, even for ridiculous and made-up reasons just to prevent voting. Anti-voting laws for Blacks were intentionally written into the state Constitution after the end of slavery. The League of Women Voters of Florida, which, along with all other major organizations supports Amendment 4, shows data that post-release recidivism rates are reduced by automatic rights restoration. Vote “Yes” on 4.

Most voters immediately understand and support Amendment 4, so you may not have to explain it, and Amendment 9 (bans near-offshore drilling) and Amendment 13 (ends dog racing) are clear. Voters will see that there is an anti-indoor-workplace-vaping part of Amendment 9, which is weird. But it is so necessary for us in Florida to put a ban on near-offshore drilling, to protect our beaches, that we should just hold our noses on indoor -workplace-vaping, and vote “Yes” on 9.  Amendment 13 is also an easy “Yes” vote, which will end wagering on dog racing because dog racing is cruel. Isn’t horse racing cruel? Yes, sometimes, but that’s no reason not to vote “Yes” on 13. Does this belong in the Constitution? No, but the legislature has not acted on it. How many more Greyhounds have to die before the legislature gets around to it?

Voters think that Amendment 3 gives them the right to vote on casinos, but it effectively does the opposite. Amendment 3 dis-empowers the local vote on gambling and/or the Legislature, because any new gambling would have to be approved by a statewide petition drive, and statewide vote, as a Constitutional Amendment. Not likely.

The Tallahassee Democrat explains, “Amendment 3 purports to put citizens in charge of any expansion of gambling, but it’s mainly a sop to Disney, which opposes all casino gambling, and the Seminole Tribe, which doesn’t want any competition for its gambling operations.” Amendment 3 is supported by the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, the Broward Democratic Party, and the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida. From the beginning of time, Democratic groups in South Florida have voted for anything that mentions gambling. The League of Women Voters supports Amendment 3 but for the opposite reason, because “the League has held a consistent position against gambling”!  Don’t drink the Kool-Aid on Amendment 3. Is it worth the time no explain to voters? No.

Feel-good Amendment 6 deceptively appears to  protect victims’ rights, but the League of Women Voters of Florida argues, “Victims’ rights are already protected in the Constitution, and this amendment would eliminate an existing provision that victims’ rights do not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused.” This is a very comfortable “No” vote, and Amendment 6 is opposed by all major groups, but unfortunately some voters will drink the Kool-Aid.

Two other Amendments, 11 and 12, may look good to some progressive groups but, in my opinion, are bad. The Miami-Dade Democratic Party and the ACLU of Florida (but not the Broward Democratic Party and not the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida) support Amendment 11, which might allow some criminal justice reforms to apply retroactively which might shorten prison terms and might save taxpayers’ money by reducing prison populations. Which is why Florida Tax Watch also supports 11. (Amendment 11 also cleans up obsolete, unenforceable language in the Constitution, by preventing the Legislature from preventing non-citizen ownership of property and removing Bullet Train language, which was already repealed.)

But the true results of feel-good Amendment 11, specifically the retroactive sentencing changes, are unpredictable. Florida Today staff explain that, “Gun rights groups support [Amendment 11] in hopes that will make retroactive a change to the “stand your ground” law that put[s] the burden of proof on the prosecution instead of defendants in pre-trial hearings.”  A sentenced gun murderer might later claim a reduced sentence in future revisions to Stand Your Ground gun laws. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

The Miami-Dade Democratic Party supports Amendment 12, which would lengthen the ban on lobbying by elected officials to 6 years, from 2 years presently. That’s excessive and out-of-step nationally. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. We should slow down the political revolving door but we don’t have to slam it shut. Lobbyists are part of the political-ecological web and provide information to legislators. Amendment 12 is opposed by the Broward Democratic Party, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, and Florida Tax Watch, and you should, too.

Winning Florida more than numbers

You can make numbers prove anything you want to believe, so interpret with caution. Look at the graph with the blue line and the red line and decide what it means to you.

Florida Presidential vote margin
When the blue line is above the red line, Democrats win Florida.

This is a graph of Florida Presidential margins from 1996 to 2016, showing a blue line for the Democratic margin of Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties, or how many more votes there were for the Democrat for President than the Republican. This can be compared with the red line for the Republican margin of Florida’s 64 other counties, that is, how many more votes there were for the Republican in those counties.

Only one of these lines is zigging and zagging. If you understand why, you can elect the next President of the United States.

Among the latter 64 counties are some strong blue counties such as Orange and five others that went for Hillary, so I oversimplify.

Maintain Democratic margins in blue counties

Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties steadily supported all Democratic Presidential candidates for many years by wide margins, with steady growth that largely tracks population increase. Among the three large South Florida counties the vast majority of increased margin came from Miami-Dade County, especially since 2008.

Get-out-the-vote and other Democratic Party efforts such as voter registration drives are probably critical to maintain the margins in South Florida. Local elected officials and Democratic organizations may be reminding voters of what the Democratic Party stands for and ensuring voting loyalty. In Presidential elections, win or lose, South Florida is consistent. The one area of greatest excitement is increased margins in Miami-Dade County.

October 27, 2016, early voting at Davie-Cooper City Branch Library.
October 27, 2016, early voting at Davie-Cooper City Branch Library.

One of the specific things that I would recommend be done early is to locate missing voters long before GOTV, not during the election. Helping Hillary Clinton, many of the voters they had me visit had not lived in a place for a dozen years or were known by present residents to have moved to another state. We can know long in advance who the underperforming voters are, and identify those who are not there, so the campaign does not have to waste last-ditch efforts to find people who are not there.

Another concern I have is for fresh data. Most of the canvass lists that I was provided had been printed 3-5 days earlier and could not have accounted for many of the voters who already voted. Every day the Florida Division of Elections reports lists of completed early and vote-by-mail voters. The early vote report is absolutely current by 8:00 am in the morning covering the previous day’s voting. The vote-by-mail report lags 2-3 days from the time the voter dropped the return ballot in a mailbox. But either way, an additional 3-5 days delay using stale walklists is inefficient. With the enormous labor involved in canvassing and phonebanking, there is no excuse in the tight final days of a campaign for using obsolete data.

As a result, on my last day of walking for Hillary, 25 of the people in my packets who I talked to had already voted along with everyone else in their families. That count does not include additional new people at residences who also voted, but who were not in my packets. About one-half of the conversations that I had involved voters who already voted and those conversations were unnecessary. I could have used the time to go to other houses of people who had not voted. While I gained great respect for the campaign organizer with whom I worked, the “Coordinated Campaign” (which should have been the “Hillary Clinton Campaign”) was heavily structured with too many layers of authority and a slow grasp of geography.

Would these improvements have mattered? No, not enough, in my opinion, not in Broward. We could have easily squeezed out a few thousand more votes, but not 20,000 to make up a reasonable quota towards our 120,000 statewide shortfall.

Pick candidates who appeal statewide

Florida’s other 64 counties zig-zag wildly from election to election, without strong discernible trend. Population growth in red counties, which is undoubtedly a strong driver, is camouflaged by something else.

My hypothesis is that on average voters in these other 64 counties may be voting more for the candidate than the Party. The good news is that some of our candidates such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have enough appeal in these areas to reduce the Republican margins or even flip counties. Pinellas County which tends to vote Democratic, as in 2012 when voters gave Barack Obama a 5.6% margin over Mitt Romney, in 2016 flipped back to the Republican, Donald Trump, who had a 1.1% margin over Hillary Clinton.

While a Presidential election has its own complicated dynamics, at the Florida level, we fairly consistently nominate Democratic candidates for Governor and US Senator with serious flaws, not so much character flaws as just being uninteresting. Donald Trump as a candidate had big league flaws but boring he was not.

It is always possible to look back at an election and, depending on its outcome, manufacture different narratives of what went wrong and right, both what we did individually, and what we did as a Democratic Party, as a campaign, and the candidate herself. Were we delusional about Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and any of our past defeated candidates? Probably, to some degree, we ignored things we shouldn’t have. Not that we can fix a candidate or dwell on shortcomings while campaigning, but being realistic and honest with ourselves is a good step to communications with the voters. Sadly, some people such as Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who I believe would have made great American Presidents, stumbled as candidates.

Did the campaign have overconfidence about the firewall in the rust belt as well as in places like Pinellas County? Yes, I think that is obvious. And did the campaign overreach in error to try to swing US Senate seats? Yes, or it may have been a reasonable bluff. Was there something that the voters saw or didn’t see that was different from what we volunteers saw or didn’t see? In a nasty, divisive election it is difficult to listen to our opponents, but we should always try harder. When we demean the voters by questioning their intelligence, we fail to listen properly. When I listen to honest Republicans—most of them—they tell me things I need to know to better convey my candidate’s message.

Campaign sign along country road in Lake County, Florida, where Donald Trump got 60% of the vote.
Campaign sign along country road in Lake County, Florida, where Donald Trump got 60% of the vote.

Understand Florida

Tuesday night I knew we were in trouble when I saw Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers wavering near Donald Trump’s. Florida has 9 counties in the Panhandle west of the Appalachicola River in the Central Time Zone, and Gulf County straddles both time zones.

The Panhandle including the Central Time zone counties tends to vote Republican although Dixiecrat is a better designation as many of the voters are of Democratic families left over from Reconstruction. The polls in the Republican western Panhandle close one hour later than the rest of the state.

I calculated that Hillary needed to be 3 percentage points above Donald in the Eastern Time Zone to survive an inevitable loss in the Panhandle. She didn’t make it. When a lot of my friends were still expecting a Hillary win was possible, her defeat was already assured by the late closing Central Time Zone polls, to be soon reported. It was even worse than that. Hillary had a positive margin in only 9 Florida counties compared with 13 for Barack Obama.

As an interesting history note, in 1968, Holmes County voted 87% for George Wallace over Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. In 2016, Holmes County voted 88% for Donald Trump.

If we are seriously interested in winning the next statewide election we should pay a visit to Holmes County, Florida. Bring along our candidate and we can visit the Westville Bar. Call it a road test.