In Florida, a Vote on Direct Democracy Itself

How powerful is Florida's "Hometown Democracy" ballot measure? It changed the state's constitution before it ever appeared on the ballot. The ...
by | July 9, 2009

How powerful is Florida's "Hometown Democracy" ballot measure? It changed the state's constitution before it ever appeared on the ballot.

The concept of the measure is for key development decisions to be made through direct democracy. The constitutional amendment requires public votes before local governments can change their comprehensive plans -- the documents that guide local development patterns.

Hometown Democracy recently qualified for the 2010 ballot, after a five-year signature drive. The Hometown Democracy vote is shaping up to be an expensive, hotly contested showdown between supporters, who think Florida has grown too quickly, and opponents, led by developers.

The opponents, though, actually may have already won.

In 2006, the state legislature placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot to change the threshold for constitutional amendments to win voter approval. Previously, amendments only had to win a simple majority of the vote. The amendment called for a new standard of 60%.

Supporters had a number of reasons for wanting the higher standard. Some constitutional amendments, they argued, had been frivolous. One defended the rights of pregnant pigs. More broadly, supporters thought that a simple majority standard made it too easy for voters to change the state's supreme legal document.

But, another major driving factor behind this higher standard was Hometown Democracy. Developers and their legislative allies feared that if Hometown Democracy was allowed to pass, it would stunt growth in the state. They largely bankrolled the campaign for the 60% standard.

That financial firepower helped pass the amendment. That means that Hometown Democracy will need a supermajority to pass, which makes it far less likely to win approval.

There are two huge ironies here. One is that the 2006 amendment wasn't able to meet the standard that it created. It passed with only 57.8% of the vote, which was sufficient because, of course, it didn't apply retroactively.

The other irony is that Hometown Democracy aims to expand direct democracy, but, so far, the result has been the exact opposite. The preemptive backlash (frontlash?) Hometown Democracy triggered in the form of the 2006 amendment will continue to make it harder for Floridians to exercise direct democracy long after this fight over development is forgotten.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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