While North Carolinians wait for a three-judge panel to decide whether they will stop misleading questions about constitutional amendments from appearing on the November ballots, a Florida judge has done just that.
The Sun Sentinel, a newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, reports that a judge in Tallahassee struck Amendment 8 from Florida’s November ballot, saying the three-pronged measure about schools was “misleading” and failed to inform voters of its purpose.
The Monday ruling was a victory for the League of Women Voters of Florida, which last month filed a lawsuit seeking to block it from the ballot, saying voters should not be asked to change Florida’s Constitution based on unclear and deceptive language.
Amendment 8 includes three proposed changes to the state constitution, unrelated except that they all deal with public schools. The most controversial deals with charter schools and the other two with term limits for school board members and the teaching of civic literacy.
The lawsuit focused on the section of Amendment 8 that would add a phrase that says local school boards could control only the public schools they established. It was proposed as a way to make it easier for charter schools — publicly funded but privately run schools — or other new educational options to flourish. Now, charter schools need local school board approval to open, but that requirement would vanish if the proposal passed.
Judge John Cooper of Leon County Circuit Court — who heard arguments in the lawsuit last week — criticized that section in his ruling because he noted it is about charter schools yet doesn’t use that term. As a result, he wrote, it “fails to inform voters of the chief purpose and effect of this proposal.”
The proposal doesn’t make it clear to voters the role school boards play now in establishing new schools, Cooper said, nor explain how that would change, if the measure passed.
State standards for constitutional amendment ballot language requirements vary, but the merits of the Florida case are akin to the merits of two North Carolina lawsuits challenging similarly misleading language.
Gov. Roy Cooper is challenging two constitutional amendment ballot questions because the amendments would ultimately dismantle the separation of powers in North Carolina but the language doesn’t inform voters of that. The NAACP of North Carolina and Clean Air Carolina are challenging the same two amendments plus two more — one that would cap the income tax rate at 7 percent (alleged the ballot question is worded in such a way as to appear to lower the current income tax rate ) and one that would require North Carolinians to have a photo identification to vote (alleged the ballot question does not inform voters what photo ID means; i.e. student ID, military ID, driver’s license, etc.).
A three-judge panel heard arguments in those two lawsuits last week and are expected to make a decision some time before Aug. 31.
Read the full Sun Sentinel article about Florida’s case here.