Contrary to reports published in mid-December claiming the campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Florida was dangerously close to failure, it now appears the initiative has gathered enough steam in the form of voter signatures to appear on next November’s general election ballot.
“We have collected close to 900,000 and by Monday or Tuesday of next week, we should be close to 1 million,” United For Care campaign director Ben Pollara said last week. “We are going to make it.”
Thanks in large part to generous financial contributions from attorney John Morgan, People United for Medical Marijuana were able to heavily ramp up signature-gathering efforts in recent weeks, roughly two months after a halt in payments to collectors in October nearly derailed the entire cause. According to a Tampa Bay Times report, many of the latest signatures were collected by an expanding army of petition gatherers—many of whom were paid between $1 and $4 per signature—stationed outside of courthouses, restaurants, stores, and post offices. Some elections officials have said their offices have received as many petitions since Christmas as they had for the entire span of the campaign to date.
“We have had to bring on temporary help,” said Tami Bentley, senior deputy for voter services in Pasco County. “Our regular staff would never be able to accomplish this.”
In addition to kickstarting an influx of spending, which, Pollara says, has topped $2.5 million to $3 million so far, campaign organizers were able to reduce the “lag time” between collecting a signature and delivering it to an elections office for official verification from “about a week to one or two days.” Rather than relying on “snail mail” to send collected petitions to verifiers, United For Care organizers rented vans to haul the signatures directly. Now, the Times’ report continued, it is up to county elections officials to tackle a mountainous backlog of signed petitions, some of which date back to when the campaign began last August, before the February 1 deadline.
“We are going to give it our best shot,” Bentley said. “Of course, if they dump 70,000 [petitions] on us on January 30, that is not going to happen.”
Although those working closest with the campaign have expressed optimism as to the end result, the possibility still exists that the initiative could fail to produce the 683,149 verified voter signatures by next month’s deadline. In some instances, petition signers are not registered voters, a requirement for a signature to be considered valid. In other cases, residents sign more than one petition or a signer’s name and/or address is illegible and, therefore, invalid. In more extreme situations, the Times article continues, if too many signatures in a batch look questionable, the entire lot will be discarded by officials.
As the petitions pour in leading up to February 1, elections officials remain committed to counting and verifying as many as possible before time runs out.
“Our policy is that we are going to turn these around as quickly as we can,” said Hillsborough County supervisor of elections Craig Latimer, who added that his office’s turnaround time for counting petitions is roughly two weeks. “It is our legislative responsibility to take care of these.”
In addition to the valid voter signature requirement, United For Care and its supporters await the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling on the legality of the proposed ballot’s language. Though a hearing was held in Tallahassee on December 5, the Court has until February 1 to make its decision.
Pollara has said United For Care will continue to collect petitions statewide for another week and then reassess the campaign to see if collecting more will be necessary.