Opinion: The math isn’t mathing on Florida abortion amendment

Numbers on the Division of Elections website only tell you part of the petition story, J.J. Whitson writes.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

What if I told you the proposed citizen initiative titled, “Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion (23-07),” will most likely qualify for the ballot by petition before the Feb. 1, 2024 deadline? Would you believe me?

Well, if you reviewed their page on the Florida Division of Elections website that aggregates the total valid petitions – and shows the petition thresholds for each congressional district – you might think I was crazy because they only show 147,244 valid petitions as of Aug. 10 for this proposed amendment. They need 891,523 valid petitions with approximately four months to go.

Previously by J.J. WhitsonData-driven, digital grassroots petitions work too

But rest assured, those numbers standing on their own only tell you part of the petition story. Let me tell you the rest using good old-fashioned math.

The life of an initiative starts once a person, presumably a Florida voter, signs a petition. Now, if the petition was collected by a paid circulator, then this petition has 30 days to make its way into the county’s supervisor of elections (SOE) office. If the petition was collected by a volunteer, then there is no official deadline to submit it to the SOE – but you’d want to send it soon.

Once in the capable hands of the county SOE staff, this petition – paid or volunteer – has 60 days to be processed. Next, the staff submits the valid petitions to the Florida Division of Elections, who then update their website once per month (see top red text).

Here’s the simple math: 30 days + 60 days = 90 days. 

That’s three months until anyone gets a glimpse of how the petition drive is going. Further, any valid petitions submitted to supervisors in August won’t show up on the Division’s website until November.

Here’s another wrinkle: The recently passed elections bill (SB 7050). It moved financial reports for political committees, candidates and electioneering communications organizations (ECOs) to quarterly outside of the active election cycle starting July 1.

More on proposed amendments from the Florida Division of Elections

Why is this important? Well, the sponsor’s June financial report reveals one expenditure to an SOE for petition verification costs, which means no one knows – except the sponsor – how many petitions were submitted to each SOE from May until the next reporting deadline on Oct. 10.

Here are the top lines from the advanced math section:

After reviewing the SOE petition reports, the sponsor submitted over 406,000 petitions to SOEs as of this week. The SOEs processed just under 306,000 of those submitted petitions. And of those processed petitions, over 228,000 are valid petitions.

Based on the petitions left to process, this initiative has 72,555 projected valid petitions which places them over 300,000 valid petitions – double what’s currently on the Division’s website. (You can dive in to the data here.)

Admittedly, this data is just a snapshot in time. These numbers will increase tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that because the petition process is dynamic as supervisors continue to receive batches of petitions throughout the coming weeks.

Believe me now?

J.J. Whitson is principal of Whitson Digital Strategies, focused on social and digital media management, content creation, and advertising with a unique perspective on statewide ballot initiatives in Florida. Views expressed are those of the author and not of the City & State Florida editorial staff.

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