North Florida casino campaign cries foul over petition process, sues for more time
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Florida Voters In Charge's petition drive is likely to fall short at Tuesday's 5 p.m. deadline.

The organization trying to get a North Florida casino proposal before statewide voters next November appears to have failed to get enough signatures verified by Tuesday’s deadline and has sued, claiming Florida law is muddled and the process unfair.

Florida Voters In Charge, a campaign group backed by the casino company Las Vegas Sands Corp. of Nevada, filed its suit Monday in Leon County Circuit Court. The group challenged Florida law provisions regarding petition signature verification and asked a judge to waive the provisions that petition signature verification processes stop at a 5 p.m. deadline Tuesday.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the state and its 67 county supervisors of elections to resume processing petition signatures turned in by Tuesday’s deadline and to continue doing so until all the petition signatures currently in their in-baskets are either verified or rejected.

As it stands, anything not processed by 5 p.m. Tuesday is thrown out. If Florida Voters In Charge has not met requirements for statewide and congressional district petitions — realities apparent from the lawsuit — its drive comes up short. Nonetheless, the organization contends it has turned in far more signatures than necessary.

“We believe we have submitted the required number of voter signatures to qualify for the ballot, but unlawful delays in processing them will lead to voters not having their voices heard,” Florida Voters In Charge said in a written statement issued Tuesday. “This lawsuit was filed to ensure fundamental rights are not violated and every voter signature is counted.”

Last week another proposed constitutional amendment to expand gambling in Florida to legalize online sports betting folded, recognizing it had no chance of reaching petition requirements by Tuesday. Florida Education Champions, the organization funded by the big daily fantasy sports platforms DraftKings and FanDuel, was much further behind in the process than Florida Voters In Charge. The sports betting campaign announced Friday it is reassessing long-term options.

Florida Voters In Charge’s lawsuit was filed against Secretary of State Laurel Lee charging that the law and the way her office is advising supervisors of elections to follow it are unlawful and unfair.

“Due to the current Ballot Initiative Statute and the ways in which it is being implemented, Plaintiffs are suffering, and will continue to suffer, irreparable injury, as Defendant’s actions are violating their fundamental, constitutional right to petition to amend the Florida Constitution by ballot initiative,” the lawsuit charges.

By midday Tuesday, Lee’s office was reporting just 793,811 Florida Voters In Charge signatures had been verified in the campaign to get a constitutional amendment allowing a North Florida casino onto the November General Election ballot statewide.

The group needs more than 871,589 verified signatures by close of business Tuesday and needs to reach specific totals in each of Florida’s 27 congressional districts.

In the lawsuit, Florida Voters In Charge contends it has run into slow processing in some counties and congressional districts, and overall requirements were leading to unfair failure.

“By Dec. 4, 2021, FVIC had submitted 1,200,514 signatures, and by Jan. 3, 2022, Thad submitted an additional 698,770 signatures for a cumulative total of 1,899,384 signatures,” the lawsuit states. “FVIC has continued submitting signatures throughout the month of January and as of the date of this filing (Jan. 31) has submitted 417,046 signatures.”

The lawsuit contends Florida law regarding petitions is muddied by numerous changes and amendments over the years, creating conflicts, uncertainties and unfairness.

In particular, the lawsuit charges there are problems with the law, giving supervisors of elections 60 days to process and verify or reject petition signatures submitted before Dec. 4, but only 30 days to process and verify any petition signatures between Dec. 4 and the petition signature deadline of Feb. 1.

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]



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