2017 Katharine V. Byers BSW Award
Contest Winner: Flandra Ismajli
Faculty Advisor: Kristin Smyth, University of South Florida
The Florida Constitution is amended through five processes: Florida Legislature; Tax & Budget Commission; Citizen Initiative; Constitutional Convention; and Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). The CRC, however, has proven to be one of the most effective and efficient ways of producing change, with an average passage rate of 80-90% in the last thirty-five years. The CRC meets once every twenty years, giving each generation an opportunity to rewrite a fundamental work. The CRC meets again for the third time in its history during this next midterm election cycle. During this cycle, it examines legislation, conducts research, accepts suggestions, and offers proposals for the 2018 Midterm Ballot. This meeting is considered to be one of the most crucial in the history of the CRC: partisan division is at an all-time high, a dangerous phenomenon in a state as demographically and ideologically diverse as this swing state. The amendments made in this cycle will shape the political climate of the next twenty years, affecting all Floridians in every election and all Americans in national elections.
To become involved in such a high-stakes process, I applied and was accepted into the Future of Florida Summit, hosted by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service. Former judges, representatives, professors, and CRC members met with our groups to discuss points of contention within Article V (Judiciary) and Article VI (Suffrage and Elections) of the Florida Constitution. My group, composed of eight students from across Florida, became interested in the issues of elections: open and closed primaries; voter registration methods; uniform early voting periods; and nonpartisan elections at the local and state level. Voting is an essential right, offering everyone a way to voice their support. We decided to tackle a pressing concern: nonpartisan elections. After being advised that our suggestions would be viewed by representatives who have a vested interest in keeping elections partisan, we decided to focus on nonpartisan local elections. We proposed amending Article VIII, Section 1 so that nonpartisan local elections could be held every four years for sheriffs, tax collectors, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, clerks of circuit courts, and similar offices. We also proposed amending Article IX, Section 5 so that nonpartisan local elections could be held for superintendents of schools. In our presentation, we reminded the audience that there are many local functions that simply do not need to be partisan, like supervising elections or collecting taxes. Our proposal was one of only three accepted by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service in 2017.
Our amendment has been sent to the CRC, which began meeting March 29. My expectations for these meetings are quite positive: although the CRC will be composed of partisan members, nonpartisan elections are a popular suggestion that can help heal a divided nation. I am hopeful that our amendment, or at least its concept, will be accepted by the CRC and included on the 2018 Midterm Ballot! In the meantime, I am scheduling a meeting with a CRC member this summer. In this meeting, I will be able to dive further into the details of why proposing this amendment is important and necessary: implementing this policy would affect over twelve million registered voters in the state, regardless of party affiliation. Its success could also lead to changes in election and voting processes at the state and national level.
My involvement in the Summit has given me an incredible range of knowledge about a little-known topic: the Florida Constitution. Policy-making requires strategic planning. Even a one-word error can cause unintended consequences, an issue we ran into quite often while drafting out amendment! It requires passionate investment. Our proposal has been sent to the CRC, but I would still like to meet face-to-face with a CRC member and advocate for the cause. Ultimately, it requires an intensive application of ethical service and social justice. These policies affect the vulnerable with the greatest intensity, so policies must be written and voters must be prepared to accept that reality.
Christopher Emmanuel. (2017). What is the Constitution Revision Commission? Florida Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved from www.flchamber.com/what-is-the-constitutional-revision-commission/. / Florida Division of Elections. (2017).
Voter Registration-Yearly. Florida Department of State. Retrieved from dos.myflorida.com/elections/data-statistics/voter-registration-statistics/voter-registration- monthly-reports/voter-registration-yearly/. / Florida TaxWatch. (2014).
Constitutional Revision Commission. The TaxWatch Center for Florida Citizenship. Retrieved from www.floridataxwatch.org/resources/pdf/CRCFINAL.pdf. /
Partnership for Revising Florida’s Constitution. (n.d.). Florida Constitution Revision Commission 2017-2018
A Citizens’ Guide. The Florida Law Related Education Association. Retrieved from www.lwvokaloosa.org/documents/CRC-brochure.pdf/(2017).
Constitution Revision Commission Hearings. The Florida Bar. Retrieved from www.floridabar.org/crc. / The Florida Legislature. (2017).
Constitution of the State of Florida. The Florida Legislature. Retrieved from www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?submenu=3. /