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November 7, 2014

This critique was updated on
November 9, 2016.
Click here to jump to the update.

A PolitiFactoid.com Critique of...

Letter to the Tallahassee Democrat:
Why does an amendment have to get 60 percent?

as printed in the Tallahassee Democrat, November 7, 2014
(click here for the letter at Tallahassee.com)

After PolitiFactoid.com's critique of a guest editorial in the Tallahassee Democrat  five days ago, I kept an eye on that newspaper to see if the guest editorial generated any other dialog. I haven't seen much on that subject; however, while perusing the editorial page this morning, I noticed a letter to the editor that just begged  for a critique, of both the letter itself and the way the newspaper handled it.

The letter contained criticism directed at the Florida Legislature regarding the percentage of affirmative votes necessary to pass an amendment to the Florida Constitution. The letter and the criticism were prompted by the failure on Tuesday of a proposed constitutional amendment that sought to legalize medical marijuana in Florida. See PolitiFactoid.com's critique below, which appears as dark blue, indented type, embedded in excerpts from the letter to the editor.

Why does an amendment have to get 60 percent?

Floridian’s [sic] have spoken, and medical marijuana won with a solid 58-percent victory. The only problem is, Florida is the only state in the nation to proclaim that a super majority of 60 percent is needed to pass any constitutional amendment the citizenry proposes. The politicians who made this law, however, can win elections with margins of only one vote.

The Republicans did this to the people of their state because they wanted to protect us from ourselves. It all boiled down to pregnant pigs and how frivolous the amendment process had become.

The letter writer is quite upset that the medical marijuana amendment received an affirmative vote from 58 percent of the voters (it was actually 57.6 percent) yet will not be adopted into the Florida Constitution because a winning margin of 60 percent is required for constitutional amendments to succeed in the state. That much is true.

The letter writer gets off track, however, when she indicates that "politicians made this law" and that "Republicans did this to the people" when referencing the 60-percent requirement.

I dug into the background of this issue, and here's a brief history lesson:

  1. There are several ways the Florida Constitution can be amended. One is by the Legislature passing a joint resolution to place a proposed amendment on the ballot for an upcoming general election in which the statewide electorate is asked to vote yes or no on whether to adopt the amendment. Another way is by an initiative petition filed by a citizen or group of citizens that gathers enough signatures of electors (among other requirements) for a proposed amendment to be placed on the ballot for consideration by the statewide electorate.
  2. Prior to 2007, a proposed amendment needed "yes" votes from a simple majority of voters to be adopted. However, in 2006, the Florida electorate passed a constitutional amendment to require that, effective January 2007, any proposed amendments would need to be approved by at least 60 percent of the voters in order to be adopted. An amendment proposing the 60-percent requirement was placed on the 2006 ballot by the Florida Legislature and was approved by 57.8 percent of the voters that year.
  3. What led to the 60-percent requirement? Several years earlier, in 2002, Florida voters had approved an initiative petition to place requirements in the Constitution that hog farmers must meet in order to legally house pregnant pigs in the state, which is referenced by the letter writer. The pregnant pigs amendment was approved by 54.8 percent of Florida voters. That proposal and several others that have no business in any state's constitution prompted efforts to make the process for amending the Florida Constitution a bit more stringent, which led to the adoption of the 60-percent requirement four years later.

Now, back to the critique. So, in complaining about the 60-percent requirement to amend the constitution, the letter writer indicated "Republicans did this to the people." Actually, the people "did this" to the people. The 60-percent requirement was approved by statewide vote of the electorate, not simply "Republicans."

The proposal for the 60-percent requirement was placed on the ballot by the Legislature, which was controlled by Republicans at the time, but when the Florida Senate voted to place the question on the ballot, 11 Democrats voted yes while only three Democrats voted no. Therefore, Senate Democrats thought so highly of the question that 78.5 percent of them supported asking the people to vote on the measure. That's Democrats, not Republicans, for those of you keeping score at home.

One more item here that needs clarification: The letter writer indicates that Florida is the only state in the nation to require a supermajority vote to pass constitutional amendments proposed by citizen initiative. That appears to be technically true. However, the letter writer's phrasing could easily lead readers to infer that Florida's 60-percent requirement pertains only to citizen initiatives, which is not true. Florida's 60-percent requirement pertains to all constitutional revisions or amendments, including those proposed by the Legislature. (See Article XI, Section 5, of the Florida Constitution.)

Is that really a reason to redefine majority rule in a free society? A majority by concept and definition is 50 percent plus one vote. For every bill our state officials vote on, a simple majority will do. I ask that our newly elected officials extend to the very people who elected them the same consideration.

The letter writer wants constitutional amendments to pass by simple majority because she believes they should. However, a simple majority of the people disagree with her. The 60-percent requirement passed with a vote of 57.8 percent of the people – which is actually a slightly higher margin than the medical marijuana amendment received (57.6 percent). If the medical marijuana should have been adopted with a vote of 57.6 percent of the people, as the letter writer asserts, why is it wrong for the 60-percent requirement to be adopted by a vote of 57.8 percent of the people?

Next, the letter writer makes an error of fact in her paragraph above. She writes, "For every bill our state officials vote on, a simple majority will do." This is not true. According to the Florida Constitution, there are numerous types of bills that cannot be enacted without a supermajority vote of each house of the state legislature. Among them are bills creating an exemption from the state's public records laws; bills that increase state revenues; bills that require counties or municipalities to spend money; bills that create state trust funds; and (most applicable to the letter writer's topic) bills that propose a constitutional amendment.

The letter writer also asks lawmakers to undo the 60-percent requirement. However, the requirement resides in the Florida Constitution. Only a vote of the people can change it.

Perhaps the next project of the people of Florida, along with reintroducing the medical marijuana amendment in 2016, should be to gather signatures for an amendment doing away with this draconian and un-American precedent set by the Republican Party of Florida. But remember, we would need 60 percent to win this. Hmmm ...

Again, the letter writer blames Republicans for her unhappiness, and this time she even goes so far as to specifically blame the Republican Party of Florida. She assigns this blame despite the fact that the people placed the 60-percent requirement in the Constitution. And, Democrats in the Florida Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of placing the question on the ballot. I can't help but wonder exactly how the letter writer became so confused as to believe Republicans are to blame for her unhappiness when that is so obviously not the case.

There's one more noteworthy item about this letter to the editor, involving the newspaper itself. The Tallahassee Democrat  printed two letters that day. One dealt with a confusing aspect of Medicare. In order to clarify that issue, the paper printed an "Editor's note" after the Medicare letter, to help clear up the confusion.

That makes me wonder why the newspaper failed to clear up all the misinformation in the letter about constitutional amendments that so wrongly criticized Republicans. I'll give the letter writer the benefit of the doubt and assume she simply misunderstood how the 60-percent requirement was created and that she genuinely believed Republicans had somehow unfairly imposed it on the people.

However, I cannot give that same benefit of the doubt to the newspaper. The letter was demonstrably misleading and desperately needed to be corrected and/or clarified. Or, given the high volume of erroneous and misleading elements, why did the newspaper publish the letter at all? Someone at the paper made a conscious decision to print the letter, despite the fact that it paints a false, negative picture of legislative Republicans. I wonder if The Tallahassee Democrat  would have published a letter that smeared Democrats with this same type of venom that's not even true.

This letter amounts to the second time in eight days that the newspaper has published an item containing numerous inaccuracies that purposefully defames Republicans. (Click here for a critique of the other article.) Is that typical of this particular newspaper? I'm just asking.

UPDATE: (November 9, 2016) Well, here we are, two years and two days after this critique was first posted. Over the past two years, the supporters of the constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana in Florida have been working again to amend the state constitution, and their amendment appeared on the 2016 election ballot in Florida, after having been narrowly defeated in 2014. This time, however, the statewide electorate passed the amendment with an overwhelming 71.29 percent voting in favor. So, perhaps the 2014 letter writer feels better now, although I'm guessing the results of the 2016 presidential election are casting quite a pall over her medical marijuana happiness. Just a wild guess on my part.


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