Abortion Will Need A Supermajority In Florida

[ Posted Monday, April 1st, 2024 – 15:18 UTC ]

The Florida supreme court just sent a very mixed message on abortion rights. In two decisions released today, the high court will allow a very strict abortion ban to take effect, but they also decided to allow an abortion-rights ballot initiative (which would enshrine the right to an abortion in the state's constitution) to appear on this November's ballot. Conservatives in the state government had been hoping that the ballot measure would just get tossed out, but the court allowed it to go forward. As I said, this was a very mixed message from the court.

But before anyone gets optimistic that Sunshine State voters will reinstate the rights that the Republican politicians have now taken away from women, you have to take into account how hard that is actually going to be. Because unlike in other states, voter initiatives that amend the state's constitution have to hit a higher bar in Florida -- they have to pass with a supermajority of 60 percent to be adopted. And that is a very high bar indeed.

This is precisely why Republicans in Ohio tried to engineer the same thing -- they tried to move the goalposts because they knew there was a good chance they were going to lose an abortion referendum. When activists put an abortion-rights constitutional amendment on the Ohio ballot in 2022, Republicans held a special election a few months early in an effort to change the state's laws to match Florida's -- so that no constitutional amendment could pass if it didn't also get 60 percent of the vote. This effort, thankfully, failed. And the abortion-rights amendment passed.

But it is instructive to examine the numbers. The Ohio "Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety" did indeed pass -- but with a "Yes" vote of only 56.8 percent. If the GOP had been successful at moving the goalposts, it would not have passed (to put this another way).

Taking a further look at the numbers shows how tough hitting that supermajority can be. Red-state Kansas voted on an abortion measure (one that would have taken away abortion rights) and the political world was shocked when the measure not only failed but failed by a very large margin. The "No" vote on it was 59.2 percent, which was over 18 points ahead of the "Yes" vote, in a very red state. But (please note) even though that is indeed impressive, it is still 0.8 percent shy of 60 percent.

In purple-state Michigan, an abortion referendum also passed in 2022, but by a vote of only 56.7 percent. The only states that might be able to surpass that supermajority requirement are awfully blue -- California enshrined abortion rights into its state constitution with a vote of 66.9 percent. That's better than two-thirds, but then again California is about as deep-blue a state as you can get.

Florida, on the other hand, has been trending redder and redder. It used to be a swing state -- the biggest battleground prize in the presidential election, due to how many Electoral College votes it has -- but over the past decade it has become more and more of a lock for Republicans. That's a headwind right from the start, but abortion votes don't strictly follow partisan lines, so it's not completely insurmountable. Democrats from President Joe Biden on down are probably even getting optimistic that they could actually be competitive in Florida (with the abortion referendum driving turnout), but "doesn't follow partisan lines" works both ways -- having abortion rights on the ballot doesn't automatically translate to voters voting Democratic (at least in the states where it has happened so far). Voters seem to treat the abortion issue separately from the politicians they vote for, meaning there may not be any "coattails" for Democrats to ride, even if the abortion amendment does well and drives up turnout.

Florida is an enormously expensive state to run political campaigns in, due to its large population. There are many cities and hence many separate media markets, each of which has to be invested in to blanket the state's airwaves with ads. It takes a lot of money to do this effectively, and this battle is (assumably) going to be incredibly hard-fought, by both sides. This may even tend to drain resources away from similar abortion referenda in other states (fully one-fourth of the states may have abortion-rights ballot measures this November).

Florida was, up until today's ruling, one of the last remaining places in the South with abortion laws that were even somewhat reasonable. The ruling today will change all of that by allowing an incredibly-strict 6-week ban to go into effect. This will wipe out effective abortion access in almost the entire South, which raises the stakes for the ballot measure.

The language of the measure is pretty clear. It will essentially restore the rights of Roe v. Wade, while also getting rid of any and all needless hurdles to obtaining an abortion: "No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient's health, as determined by the patient's healthcare provider." But that won't stop the forced-birth side from demonizing what the law will and won't allow (as has happened in every single state where abortion rights have come up for a vote). Activists for women's rights will have to counter all this misinformation and educate the voters exactly what the measure will do. That's all going to cost a lot of money.

Of course, nobody knows what the chances of success are going to be for the ballot initiative. If it gains a large majority but still falls a few percentage points short of the 60-percent supermajority, it is going to be extremely disappointing. Will Florida be the first state where an abortion rights measure fails? So far, abortion has a perfect track record even in red states. So even if it gets (for instance) 58.5 percent and thus doesn't make it into the Florida constitution, each side is going to try to claim a certain degree of victory.

If it does surpass the supermajority threshold, this will send a clear message to Republicans that abortion continues to be a losing issue for them at the ballot box. But if it falls short, it's going to send a different sort of message to Republican legislatures in the other states where referenda are possible -- that they had better raise their own threshold to a supermajority, because that's the only way they can still win.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “Abortion Will Need A Supermajority In Florida”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    Abortion Will Need A Supermajority In Florida

    Flipping a Senate Seat in Florida Will Not Need a Supermajority

    Making the GQP spend a lot of money to just to defend Florida will also weaken them nationwide. :)

  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    in 2010 florida voted 63% to stop gerrymandering, and the legislature is STILL fighting hard to keep doing it.

  3. [3] 
    Kick wrote:


    To your very good point, in 2018 Florida voted 64.5% to approve Amendment 4, Voting Rights Restoration for Felons which would automatically restore the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions (except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense). Florida lawmakers threw a "monkey wrench" into the will of the people on that constitutional amendment with the passage of Senate Bill 7066 requiring convicted felons to complete "all terms of sentence" including full payment of restitution or any fines, fees, or costs resulting from the conviction, before they could regain the right to vote.

    Righties do not want people to vote because the more people are enfranchised to vote, the more Republicans lose.

    Fast forward to Florida Amendment 4, the Right to Abortion Initiative on the upcoming November 2024 ballot, the last poll I saw was 64% voting "yes" to support establishing a constitutional right to abortion before fetal viability.

    I'm surprised CW didn't mention it, but Florida also has another initiative on the November 2024 ballot that should also drive high voter volume:

    Florida Amendment 3, Marijuana Legalization Initiative, wherein a "yes" vote supports legalizing marijuana for adults 21 years old and older and allowing individuals to possess up to three ounces of marijuana.

    Weed is on the ballot in Florida at the same time as abortion. Poor Righties. Turnout is likely to be amped up in Florida for more reason than one, and while they may ultimately prevail in taking away the will/freedom of the majority of citizens, it's going to cost them a lot of cash.

  4. [4] 
    Kick wrote:

    The voters of Florida had previously legalized the use of medical marijuana through a constitutional amendment in 2016 by a vote of 71% in favor. 71% !!!

    Heh. :)

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