Gay marriage ban initiative short of signatures needed for ballot
Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 12:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 12:10 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A gay marriage ban and several other citizen initiatives were short of the signatures needed to get on the November ballot Monday with just two weeks left before the Feb. 1 petition-gathering deadline.
Sponsors of the single-gender marriage prohibition announced a month ago that they had met the 611,009 signature requirement, but updated numbers issued by the state showed the proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution was still 21,989 signatures short.
That's because Miami-Dade County election officials last week discovered they had submitted duplicate signature reports, said Department of State spokesman Sterling Ivey.
Secretary of State Kurt Browning last week abandoned an electronic system for reporting signature verifications because of glitches that included duplicating petitions and directed county election officials to go back to paper.
"It's a very unfortunate situation, but we're not going to cast any blame," said John Stemberger, an Orlando lawyer who heads a coalition backing the gay marriage ban. "We certainly are going to make every effort possible to correct this."
That means Florida4Marriage.org will restart its petition campaign. It has relied entirely on volunteers rather than hiring paid signature gatherers, Stemberger said.
He said appeals will go out to organizations that helped in the drive, including Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and American Family Association, to collect more signatures.
The sponsors must submit them to county election officials for verification. The results then will be forwarded to the Department of State's Division of Elections.
"We're just praying that they are able to process all the signatures that come in before Feb. 1," Stemberger said.
If the measure gets on the ballot, it is expected to pit gay communities in South Florida and other urban areas against the proposal's Bible Belt supporters.
"Signatures or not, the Human Rights Campaign will continue to mobilize volunteers and give them the tools they need to educate voters on this harmful amendment," said Joe Solmonese, president of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C.
Solmonese said the amendment would needlessly write discrimination into the state constitution. A state law already bans single-gender marriage, but supporters say an amendment is needed to prevent courts from overturning the statute.
Also still short is a proposal being fought by construction, real estate and other business interests that would require voter approval for changes in comprehensive plans, which opponents say would stifle Florida's growth.
The Hometown Democracy Amendment still needs 109,479 valid signatures to make the ballot. That's after 4,738 signature revocations were subtracted under a new law passed at the urging of Hometown Democracy opponents.
Hometown Democracy leader Lesley Blackner, a Palm Beach lawyer, said her organization has submitted about 100,000 more signatures than needed and is collecting more.
"I don't known that I trust these numbers," Blackner said, criticizing the state's handling of the computer glitches. "I don't have any faith in the system."
Ivey said the state has been working diligently, but the computer system has defied all efforts to get it working right. Problems include trying to make a state system that wasn't designed for signature verification compatible with four different kinds of data systems used by the counties, he said.
Opponents, led by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, also are trying to thwart Hometown Democracy by offering a competing proposal called "Floridians for Smarter Growth," but it has received only 73,131 signatures. It would put planning changes on the ballot only if 10 percent of voters in a city or county sign a petition and they'd be able to sign only at county elections offices.
After Hometown Democracy, the next highest signature total is for a proposal that would require doctors to charge the same fee for the same service to all patients. It was at 259,221 — less than half of the signatures needed.
Neither of two competing stem cell proposals are anywhere near reaching their ballot. A proposed ban on state funding of embryonic stem cell research has 78,773 signatures. A measure that would require the state to pay $20 million a year for such research has 73,404 signatures.
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