Clock is ticking on gambling amendment petition drives
Petition cards

Petition Cards
Both campaigns needed more than a half million more signatures verified.

Crunch time has arrived for two statewide organizations trying to get gambling expansion constitutional amendments on the 2022 General Election Ballot.

Both Florida Voters In Charge, a Las Vegas Sands-backed group seeking voter approval for a North Florida casino, and Florida Education Champions, a FanDuel and DraftKings-backed group seeking voter approval for open sports betting, appear close to reaching the magic number of valid petitions needed to get their proposals on the 2022 ballot. But time is quickly running out.

Both groups dismiss the official numbers of verified petition signatures in their petition drives as meaningless, insisting they have gathered way more, but they have to await the slow, bureaucratic process of getting local elections officials to verify each voter signature.

Both organizations headed into the Christmas weekend needing more than a half million more voter petition signatures verified.

“The Supervisors of Elections have up to 30 days to validate petitions so what you are seeing online is not in real time. We are confident that we will make our goal,” said Voters in Charge spokesperson Sarah Bascom.

“Florida Education Champions continues to collect and submit valid petitions to Supervisor of Elections’ offices across the state,” said that group’s spokesperson, Christina Johnson. “They are working diligently to validate large quantities of petitions already in their offices. We are confident we will have enough signatures to meet the Feb. 1, 2022, deadline.”

That Feb. 1 deadline is only the outlying part of a critical timeline. Unofficially, officials urge a Dec. 30 deadline to turn in petitions. The following three days are either weekends or holidays. And an ominous clock starts ticking on Jan. 3.

The signatures must be validated by Florida’s 67 county supervisors of elections by Feb. 1 or they don’t count. Supervisors offices are allowed up to 30 days to process signatures. That means signatures turned in after Jan. 2 are not guaranteed to be checked, confirmed, and counted by Feb. 1.

According to the Florida Secretary of State, here’s where the gambling amendment drives stood before the Christmas weekend:

— They each need 891,589 valid signatures statewide.

— Within that, they need minimums from each of Florida’s 27 congressional districts, based on 2020 voter turnout in those districts.

At the low end, petition campaigns need at least 24,132 verified signatures in Florida’s 24th Congressional District in South Florida. At the high end, they need 39,502 verified signatures in Florida’s 11th Congressional District in West-Central Florida. The other 25 districts’ requirements fall in between those totals.

— Florida Voters In Charge had just over 310,000 statewide signatures verified by last Wednesday.

— Florida Voters In Charge was close to the minimum needed in one Congressional District, Florida’s 5th, which stretches across North Florida from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. Last Wednesday, the organization was holding 99% of the 27,617 verified signatures needed in that district.

The group had at least half of what it needs verified in only two other districts. On the other hand, it had fewer than a third of what’s necessary in 13 congressional districts. In Florida’s 1st Congressional District, in the western Panhandle, the group had 17% of the 35,676 required verified signatures.

— Florida Education Champions had approximately 206,000 signatures verified by last Wednesday.

— Florida Education Champions had not yet met the minimum requirements in any congressional districts.

The group’s signature tally was over 60% of the required total in CD 5. The group’s verified count was less than a third of what’s needed in 23 of the other 26 congressional districts. The group had 5% of what’s required in CD 1, and just 6% of the 31,651 verified signatures necessary in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, in the central Panhandle.

There are, nonetheless, stacks of unverified petition signatures awaiting processing in every Supervisor of Elections office.

It might not seem an undue task for 67 offices to check and confirm a million individual signatures in a month in order to get two constitutional amendment initiatives qualified for the 2022 General Election ballot.

Except, it’s not just two initiatives.

The Secretary of State Office lists 31 constitutional amendment petition drives as active. The word “active” may be relative, as some campaigns certainly are dormant, or even dead. But the majority of campaigns reportedly are turning in signatures to supervisors offices.

There’s one banning assault weapons, and another reducing legal barriers to solar energy. There’s one banning hunting of black bears and other protected species. There are a couple legalizing recreational marijuana and a couple that would restrict abortion access.

In addition, supervisors’ offices are receiving and processing candidate qualification petitions for local and state candidates. They include many local candidates with spring elections and rapidly approaching qualification deadlines.

Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said his office processes petition verification on a strict first-come, first-served basis, based on when each stack of fresh signatures arrive, regardless of campaign. No one gets to cut in line because they’re getting close to the magic number or the deadline.

“Right now I have 12 temps working on processing petitions. The staff is averaging approximately 1,000 petitions a day,” Cowles said last week.

Just for Florida Voters In Charge, Orange County has 71,500 petition signatures stacked up awaiting the verification process. For Florida Education Champions, Cowles said he has 15,937 awaiting verification.

“It appears we’re probably going to have staff working nights, weekends and all that because it is an absolute Feb. 1 deadline to have everything we have processed,” Cowles said. “If these groups think they’re going to walk in two days before the deadline of Feb. 1 and drop 25,000 on us, there’s no way. Feb. 1, at 5 o’clock, we have to report to the state what we have. We don’t process after that.”

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected]


One comment

  • Sonny

    January 4, 2022 at 9:10 pm

    WRONG…. they need almost 900,000 petitions by the end of the year and less than 250,000 is all they have collected. To get 900,000 good petitions they needed to get over a million signatures. Many of the petitions were paid for ($5 per signature) which is illegal so they will be void and challanged. Many are non voters. Many cannot be verified.The deadline was the end of the year and the next two months to count the petitions.. It’s dead…..

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