Reaching the final stretch, leaders of both ballot petition drives for new gaming initiatives say they are where they need to be to win. The window already has closed, however, on assurances they’ll have enough signatures to qualify for the 2022 General Election ballot.
Neither Florida Voters In Charge, a Las Vegas Sands-backed group seeking voter approval for a North Florida casino, nor Florida Education Champions, a FanDuel and DraftKings-backed group seeking voter approval for open sports betting, has come close to reaching the 891,589 verified petition signatures needed to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.
They have until Feb. 1, but now they’re gambling with any new petitions they may turn in.
The state’s 67 county supervisors of elections are allowed up to 30 days to process petitions. So any signatures turned in after Jan. 2 are a gamble: maybe they’ll get counted; maybe they won’t.
Florida Voters In Charge appears to be in the better shape of the two.
According to the latest filings, Florida Voters In Charge has just over half the statewide total of verified signatures it needs to get its proposal on the ballot, according to the Secretary of State. It still has about $5 million left in the bank. And its backers have recently shown confidence and commitment, upping their stakes with another $23.5 million in December, and have now put more than $51 million toward winning.
Florida Education Champions has only about a third of the total signatures it needs. Its two major stake horses put nothing into the effort in December. The group has raised $37 million overall but entered the final 30 days with only about $1 million left after spending almost $10 million per month in November and December.
As of Tuesday, Florida Voters in Charge had 468,416 petition signatures certified as valid — 53% of the goal — plus an undisclosed number of other petitions stacked up awaiting the 30-day review.
Florida Education Champions had 295,221 petition signatures validated — just 33% of its statewide goal — and an undisclosed number of other petitions stacked on supervisors’ desks.
Both organizations, however, say they are staying in the game.
“Florida Voters in Charge remains committed to providing voters with a choice on gaming options in the state,” said Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for Florida Voters in Charge. “The supervisors of elections are working on fulfilling their statutory duty to ensure every petition is counted. Once all the submitted petitions are verified and counted, we are confident we will have hit our goal.”
Florida Voters in Charge replenished its coffers with four new donations: three from Las Vegas Sands and one from the Poarch Creek Band of Indians in Alabama. The organization spent $18.2 million in December, including about $13 million on petition drives in the closing weeks.
The group came into January with about $5 million left to play.
“Florida Education Champions continues to collect and submit petitions to local Supervisors of Elections throughout the state for validation and prior to the Feb. 1, 2022 deadline,” said Florida Education Champions spokesperson Christina Johnson. “There has been ongoing paid media advertising on all channels and platforms designed to raise awareness and assist the paid circulator effort, and that is continuing.”
Florida Education Champions spent $9.3 million in December to get as much done as possible by Jan. 2, but did not add any money in December, according to the latest campaign finance reports posted by the Division of Elections. In the closing weeks of December, Florida Education Champions spent $3.3 million on the petition drive and about $122,000 for legal fees down the stretch.
The group entered January with about $1 million left.
Both campaigns’ goals are complicated by requirements that they do more than just reach statewide minimums. They must also achieve minimum numbers of valid petition signatures in each of Florida’s 27 congressional districts. The requirements vary, depending on each district’s voter turnout in the 2020 General Election. District minimums range from about 24,000 to about 41,000 valid signatures each.
Through Tuesday, Florida Voters in Charge had reached the required threshold in only one: Florida’s 5th Congressional District, which stretches across North Florida from Tallahassee to Jacksonville.
Florida Education Champions had not reached the threshold in any of the 27 districts.
A few congressional districts are offering particular trouble to the gambling petitioners, notably the two Panhandle districts. As of mid-day Tuesday, Florida Voters In Charge hadn’t topped 30% of its requirements in either Florida’s 1st or 2nd Congressional District, while Florida Education Champions hadn’t reached 10% in either.
Both groups also are struggling to get people to sign up in Florida’s 8th Congressional District along the Space Coast, Florida’s 11th Congressional District in West-Central Florida centering around The Villages, and Florida’s 27th Congressional District in Miami-Dade County. Neither group has reached 30% of the minimums in any of those three districts.