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Greens, it seems, have always been tied to peace and nuclear protests and the Florida Greens are no different. Over the years our local group has been involved in protesting a plant which manufactured triggers for nuclear bombs, a food irradiation plant in Mulberry, and the launch of the Cassini space probe which has 72.3 pounds of plutonium-238 in it. The latter was organized by the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice in which many Greens are members. In fact, some of our statewide Coordinating Council (the main decision making body of the Greens) meetings were held at the Cassini protests.
...our local chose the improvement of ballot access for minor party and independent candidates as our main project because Florida's laws are by far the worst in the nation.
Since becoming a political party in 1992 the Florida Greens have had one candidate run for a congressional office-Barbara Ann Rodgers Hendricks-and, of course, Ralph Nader for President. In the United States minor party and independent candidates must collect petition signatures of registered voters to get on the ballot. Ms. Hendricks got on the ballot because it was a reapportionment year. Reapportionment means that the political districts are being redrawn and in that year petition signatures can be collected throughout the whole state instead of just within her district. In addition, she only needed to collect a number equal to 1% of the registered voters in her old district instead of the usual 3%.
In early 1997 our local chose the improvement of ballot access for minor party and independent candidates as our main project because Florida's laws are by far the worst in the nation. At present, Florida's filing fees amount to 6% of an office's annual salary, which is higher than in any other state. The number of signatures that have to be collected in Florida by minor party or independent candidates equals 3% of the number of registered voters for the area the office represents. The state with the next closest requirement is Wyoming with 2% of the 1996 US House vote, or, when adjusted to the number of registered voters 1.74%. In terms of gross numbers, US Senate and other statewide minor party and independent candidates, must collect 242,337 verified petition signatures in Florida to get on the ballot. The state with the next highest requirement is California with 89,006 party registrants required, in a state with a much greater population than Florida. Florida requires 403,895 party registrants to be a major party. In contrast, major party candidates may choose to just pay the filing fees up front to get on the primary election ballot, and thereby entirely skip collecting a lesser number of petition signatures (3% of their parties registered voters in the area represented by the office). Proof of the prohibitively high nature of these ballot access requirements is found in the fact that no current member of the State Legislature or Florida member of the US House or Senate has gotten on the ballot by collecting petition signatures.
At the time we made this commitment to improving ballot access, we believed there were four possible routes to take in addressing this issue.
Among these options, we chose not only to start a citizen's petition initiative, but also to monitor the CRC and suggest a ballot access proposal at CRC hearings, which we did.
- First, to seek relief through the legislative process. We ruled this out because our legislators have a vested interest in maintaining the two party system.
- Second, to seek help from the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) which meets every 20 years and which after public hearings, proposes changes to Florida's constitution. The proposals, called revisions, go directly to the ballot without legislative interference for voter approval. The 37 member CRC is appointed by the Governor, the State Senate President, the State House Speaker, and the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court. The Attorney General chose himself as the sole appointee he is allowed. Since the most powerful people in government appoint the CRC, we expected they would protect the status quo by being unreceptive to us.
- Third, to bring a lawsuit in the courts. We expected little help there because the courts almost always uphold Florida's discriminatory ballot access laws. For example, recently the Florida Supreme Court upheld the rejection of the Libertarians' equal protection of the law challenge of discrimination against minor parties based on candidate filing fees only being remitted to major parties. The Court said that even though the law is discriminatory, the government's need to support the major parties and prevent factionalism justifies it.
- Fourth, Florida has a citizen's petition initiative process which puts a proposal directly on the ballot if enough signatures are gathered, roughly half a million over a four year period, and if the Florida Supreme Court does not reject it.
A citizen's petition initiative is a major undertaking, and we realized that support and help of other minor parties, non-profit organizations, and interested individuals would be needed to be successful. So, we sent out 155 letters to Greens and others. Eventually, we got a response from Florida's Secretary of the Libertarian Party, Tom Regnier, who was going to be in our area and wanted to arrange a meeting. Our first meeting, in November of 1997, included representatives from the Libertarian, Socialist Party USA, Green and New Parties. This coalition is now called Floridians For Fair Elections (FFFE) and includes representatives from the Libertarian, Socialist, Reform, American Reform, Natural Law and Green Parties of Florida. Presently, we are asking non-profit groups, such as Common Cause and the ACLU, to join the FFFE.
At the time of the first FFFE meeting, a CRC ballot access proposal was surprisingly still alive. To keep it alive, coalition members generated timely and large fax and E-mail responses to affect CRC decisions and some spoke at CRC hearings. Given that many CRC votes on the ballot access proposal were unanimous in its favor, as time went on, the chances of it getting on the ballot improved. Adjusting to this unexpected success, we let the citizen's initiative fall by the wayside, instead concentrating on the CRC. Until election time, our coalition will be focusing on getting Revision 11 passed.
Revision 11, which includes a ballot access proposal, also has five other proposed constitutional changes. There is only one vote for or against all six.. The final wording of the ballot access proposal as it would be added to the constitution is: "...however, the requirements for a candidate with no party affiliation or for a candidate of a minor party for placement of the candidate's name on the ballot shall be no greater than the requirements for a candidate of the party having the largest number of registered voters." This provision of Revision 11 may not be all that we ultimately want, but it will be a major step towards correcting the worst ballot access laws in the country. The summary of the other proposals in Revision 11 are: "allows all voters, regardless of party, to vote in any party's primary election if the winner will have no general election opposition; provides public financing of campaigns for statewide candidates who agree to campaign spending limits; permits candidates for governor to run in primary elections without lieutenant governor; makes school board elections nonpartisan; corrects voting age."
...the requirements for a candidate with no party affiliation or for a candidate of a minor party for placement of the candidate's name on the ballot shall be no greater than the requirements for a candidate of the party having the largest number of registered voters.
We have had two exciting and hopeful experiences during this project so far. First, even though major party bigwigs appointed the CRC members, they rose to the occasion, were able to listen and learn from ordinary citizens, and recognized and responded to the vast unfairness of the current laws. Second, it is possible for diametrically opposed political parties to work together on a clearly defined, mutually accepted agenda if the parties' representatives keep in mind the importance of the common goal, communicate with respect, and make decisions as equals by consensus.
If this revision passes the Greens in Florida will have a much easier time getting on the ballot and thus getting elected. If elected I am sure the Greens will conscientiously try to solve the serious problems the republicrats continually fail to address.
- Education. Florida is ranked 48th of all states in graduation rates (1994-95) as a percentage of fall 1991 ninth grade enrollment. Our graduation rate is only 59.1%. We need to improve education.
- Florida's population density has increased more rapidly than any other state between 1920 and 1990. This has caused rapid habitat destruction. This has caused Florida to have more endangered species than any other state besides Hawaii and California. We need to address the human population problem and resulting species extinction, not necessarily in Florida alone.
- We need to address the failure of America to act quickly to solve the problem of global warming.
- Florida needs to solve the problem of agricultural and residential pesticide and fertilizer runoff and its associated effect on water quality in the Everglades and elsewhere.
- Florida has 15.2% of its population living in poverty. Although this is lower than 15 other states it is still too high.
For information, contact Richard Sommerville, 6170 82nd Terr. N., Pinellas Park, FL 33781-1307 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: (727)547-106