A proposed Florida constitutional amendment would have an unknown — but likely significant — impact on county election administration costs, according to state budget experts.
Keep Our Constitution Clean‘s proposed amendment would require voters to approve future constitutional amendments twice to be ratified. Doing so would roll over ballot questions from one year to the next, increasing the physical length of paper ballots.
Leon County elections supervisor Mark Earley spoke before the Financial Impact Estimating Conference (FIEC) Friday and said the amendment would have both one-time and recurring costs. Purchasing storage containers, renting out larger polling facilities, and printing longer ballots are just some of the costs that would fall on counties.
“I don’t want to be gloom and doom, but this is scaring us, frankly,” Earley said.
George Levesque, who spoke before FIEC on behalf of the Ft. Lauderdale-based political committee, compared — in a November — meeting constitutions to building foundations, which are central to a structure’s integrity.
“Keep Our Constitution Clean believes the same is true for government, that a foundational document should not be effectively relegated to a statutory status, but that they should be relatively immutable and unchanged or not easily changed,” Levesque said.
The proposed change would potentially double the costs of paper ballots for counties like Leon County or lead to a 50% increase for larger counties, Earley said. Lengthier ballots would lead to logistical challenges, longer wait times, larger envelopes and more necessary equipment.
“You don’t just go out and go to any local printer. You have to use printers that are very capable of doing this. And if you’re expanding the amount of pages of ballots that everybody has to get printed, that has a dramatic impact … to our vendors that supply these ballots,” Earley said.
But given the variable nature of how many constitutional amendments appear on a given ballot and succeed, budget specialists can’t pinpoint an exact cost. That’s not to say they disagree with Earley.
Amy Baker, the state’s lead budget analyst, said the fiscal cost is indeterminate but substantial. Voters approved at least one amendment each election this decade, including in 2018, when 11 of 12 proposals on the ballot passed.
The estimated total cost of the 2018 amendment ballot was $939,000, with more than 10,000 words. In 2012, which coincided with that year’s presidential election, the amendment ballot cost an estimated $1.1 million for more than 12,000 words.
But in 2010, the nearly 2,000-word ballot cost only $185,000. In 2014, the only proposal to pass, of three, contained 1,196 of the 2,545 words on that year’s ballot, which in total cost $236,000.
Nevada passed a similar change in the 1960s, but FIEC and the amendment’s backers have not found studies on the costs associated with that change. And North Dakota, which also has a similar proposed change, has not conducted a fiscal study.
Levesque focused on the unknown nature of the cost in Friday’s meeting but added that FIEC might have missed a suppressing factor.
“It’s entirely possible that the double hurdle that people have to get over may have a chilling effect on amendment behavior,” Levesque said. “We certainly hope that’s one of the byproducts of this because the group that I represent believes that the constitution should not be changed so easily.”
Earley also said that an audit or recount would be a “nightmare” with longer ballots, as they are hand-counted and subject to human error from fatigue.
“Certainly with the new requirements for the longer financial impact statements already, everything we seem to do is, ‘Ah, just throw it on the ballot. It’ll be fine,'” Earley said. “It’s not fine. It’s just the opposite.”
As of Friday afternoon, the proposal has received 436,905 out of 766,200 signatures it needs by February to appear on the 2020 ballot. If passed, the new rule would apply to future amendments.